Once Upon a Bobsled…at Breuil – Cervinia
There once was a Winter Sports King who met the Western Alps Snow Princess many, many years ago.
It was at the beginning of the ‘60s.
The only bobsledding slope in Italy was in Cortina. Breuil-Cervinia, however was gaining popularity day by day thanks to attention the International Jet-set was giving the town.
A group of bobsledding enthusiast, almost all from Milan, decided to create a new slope in their beloved Cervinia, therefore directly competing with Cortina. Leading the energetic group was Luigino Gallia, owner of Grand Hotel Cervinia, and working by his side was former National Technical Commissioner, doc. Botta.
The project was entrusted to engineer Luciano Galli, whom architected it by following the criteria of the upmost prestigious slope constructions, like Cortina and Saint Moritz. The final step was finding the location: the obvious choice was the splendid and vast area of Lake Blue. Building the whole piece was an extremely difficult task: much work required manual interventions, and the weather conditions certainly were of little help.
Once the structure was fixed in concrete, they accumulated a great quantity of snow during a period of over a month. This was going to be used to make the “slope naturally icy”, to define the layout of the slope, to cover the rough opening of the walls and lastly to refine the subfloors.
The snow was served also to fasten, with water, the walls of the slope. The water was thrown on the cold cement walls to give form to the aerial curves. More technical difficulties were maintenance issues which needed the physical presence of 15 workers for each day that the slope was being used.
When the project was finally complete, joy and enthusiasm took over every other emotion and worry. The route was 1500m long, with a variation of 139m, and the slope’s declivity was an average of 9,43%, and maximum 13,9%. There were eighteen turns connected two very long and steep straight lines, these allowed the bobsleds to slide 140 km/h.
The slope was inaugurated, for the first time, informally in 1963 with a slide-test done by Eugenio Monti (the great flying red) using an Olympic winning bobsled, from the Cortina Olympics 1956. Many more bobsledding try-tests came shortly after the first one, until 1966, when the bobsledding slope had its official presentation to the world. The inauguration was tremendous. The highest authorities of the time participated in the event such as the founder of the Matterhorn’s Ski School: Leo Gasperl; High Official of the Cableway Installation Enterprise, Luigi Cravetto; and President of F.I.S.I., Commendator Piero Oneglio. Amongst them there were also representatives, numerous personalities of international fame, actors and Cervinia enthusiasts. Nearby the newly-opened bobsledding slope, a new school arose: Armed Forces Bobsledding School, arranged by the Italian Air Force. Initially Italian athletes came mainly from the Triveneto area but, soon after the opening of the bobsledding slopes, many people from Aosta Valley discovered the adrenaline of bobsledding. This pushed people from this region to dedicate body and soul (as only they know how to do) to this very complex, yet liberating, discipline. The first to shine were Maurizio Compagnoni from Cervinia, Gianni Bonichon (silver Olympic medal Sapporo ’72), and Franco Perruquet (World Champion ’75, gaining title at the Lake Blue bobsledding slope).
The Breuil-Cervinia’s bobsledding slope kept gaining popularity, to the extent of attracting bobsledding enthusiasts and many athletes from all around the world.
The slope’s icy turns were a great attraction which through many pro-level sporting events became well-known world-wide. Soon after came the unforgettable slide of Prince Michele di Kent (1970), and of Prince Alberto di Monaco (1990), both princes and their respective professional teams were very familiar with Breuil. The numerous show-business personalities also bobsledded on the Breuil slope, such as Renato Rascel, and the famous duo “Cocchi and Renato”. It is not a coincidence, in fact, that many International World Cup Competitions and European Championships were arranged here. The Breuil-Cervinia bobsledding slope reached its peak after the debate during the prestigious World Championships unique trials of ’71 – ’75, and ’82. The races were shown entirely on live television, on Rai TV.
1991 was the year things suddenly changed and, just like a consumed love story, everything simply came to an abrupt stop: the fearless and sinuous Queen of bobsledding became organizer for the World Championships of 1993. Unfortunately, the bobsledding slope needed trail adjustments and modernization work done on its structures, it became so badly needed that the lack of adjustments became a burden for the organization. However, the economic resources weren’t sufficient to consent these interventions.
This led to the closing of the bobsledding slope. All hope was lost to one day reopen the slope, just before 2006, when Turin was nominated as Winter Olympics Capital, and the restoration of the Lake Blue trail was no longer in the Olympic program.
But beautiful stories always need someone that conserves them, takes care of them, talks about them, and passes them on with love and without regrets. Cervinia knows (and does) this well. The job in this case is done by the jewel called “Yeti Pub”. This historic pub was chosen, since the beginning, as a place to get together. This became a normality not only for all bobsled enthusiasts, Bob Club Cervinia athletes, sportsmen from all of the world, but also for sports enthusiasts whom simply came (and come) here to talk about techniques, speed, adjustments, balance, and victories. However, they also come just for a friendly chat with Maurizio Bruzzone, soul of the Yeti Pub. He is a bobsledder of great success. He is animated with the will to divulgate, along the side of some of his friends and former teammates, like Ennio Fosson, the bobsledding culture.
In December 2015, the group was able to accumulate a treasure of films, photos, trophies, and stories, and presented them to the public at the “Once upon a Bobsled. Cervinia 1963-1991” exhibition. At Saint-Vincent the exhibition attracted an enormous crowd of bobsledding enthusiasts, and onlookers. It was a sort of modern bonfire experience, one may say.
The story, however, doesn’t end here.
This same Yeti Pub still talks about those gorgeous successes: if one glances at the walls of this little hut, one would be taken aback. The charm of those years wins over everyone. Just by paying a little bit of attention, one can still here the warm laughter of athletes that by day challenged one another at “perfect trajectories”, and by night celebrated victories with a beer mug. Amongst the victory cups, trophies, and the words spoken by those who were there, you will relive the memories of faraway adventures. The people who lived the bobsledding track’s history, who kept it in their hearts, will warm you up. Reminding you of those tasks, of that sport, but most of all, of a beautiful dream or, if you prefer, fairytale. And maybe its best to remember the track as a fairytale, because dreams sooner or later end, while fairytales, although their stories end, last forever
The adventure is about to start,
c’mon guys, give a good push,
just a few steps and already with out of breath,
I’ve almost arrived, can’t stop half way,
I have to carry them to the end
with eyes that run faster than our sled.
Five seconds, then I must jump,
concentrated, the pilot I mustn’t touch,
each turn I know, but I mustn’t look,
I can only feel them, each one different from the other.
I explode during the push
looking well where I put my feet
it’s essential I don’t slip,
if I make a mistake, I won’t make the support
and the push record will slip away from my hands.
What a strange name for one who mustn’t stop,
if not after the finish line
where most of the responsibility falls on my shoulders;
side pushed ready, head down, a start counting
all the turns to know where time must stops
and my strength breaks the race.