In the 1950s and 1960s, the Gornergrat Derby was one of the most famous skiing events in Europe. For the downhill skiers, the race from Gornergrat was a major challenge due to its extraordinary length; the men’s downhill run was an incredible six kilometres long.
Start of international skiing races in Zermatt
In February 1946, downhill races were held for the first time under the name “Gornergrat Derby”. The men’s downhill run started from the Gornergrat, close to the Gornergrat Railway station; the ladies' run from the Riffelberg. Both races ended on the “Tuftra” meadow south of Zermatt.
The men’s course was six kilometres long and had an altitude difference of around 1,500 metres. By way of comparison: at 4.5 km, the longest World Cup downhill race is the Lauberhorn Race.
Back in 1946, two locals ended up as winners on the podium: for the men it was Adolf Aufdenblatten and for the ladies Dorly Lehner.
In 1947, the race was held for the second time and was called the “International Gornergrat Derby”. Aufdenblatten won the downhill in 8 minutes and 16 seconds.
Expanded to three races
In 1948, the organisers expanded the Gornergrat Derby to include more races: there was also the combination of the Blauherd downhill and the slalom. In this version, the Derby lasted three days.
Derby commentator Karl Erb, who moderated the Zermatt event for many years, had the following to say about the Gornergrat Derby in the newspaper “Sport” in 1973: “In the month of March in the 1950s and 1960s, a race was held that enjoyed great popularity far beyond the borders of our country: the Gornergrat Derby in Zermatt. The world’s best took part in the Blauherd downhill with the corresponding slalom and the final Derby down from the Gornergrat… They weren’t attracted by prizes, but by the unique, warm hospitality, an electric atmosphere and perfectly organised races on top-class slopes.”
Adaptation to the international competition calendar
During the 1960s, the reorganisation of the skiing races in the form of the International World Cup had greatly changed the competition calendar and Zermatt decided not to continue holding the Derby.
At the last race in 1967, Jean-Daniel Dätwyler from Switzerland set a new track record: he reached the finishing line in 6 minutes and 10 seconds.
Downhill slopes still open today
Skiers can still enjoy the slopes from Gornergrat to Zermatt and from Blauherd to the village (Piste National): take to the slopes and get an impression of the incredible performance of the skiers back then.