A Trail Runs Through It

The wide open, green landscape of Val Funtauna above Davos, Switzerland

This is the story about the start of a company. But it’s also the story of the Alps, in a sense.

When I started Run the Alps, the first thing I did was gather together some friends and go trail running. We ran quiet trails in little-known valleys. We made notes, took photos, and I imagined sharing these places with guests from around the world.

Only, it didn’t happen. At least, not quite that way. Instead, everyone wanted to run the Tour du Mont-Blanc. And see Grindelwald. And stare endlessly at the Matterhorn from Zermatt.

In time, I understood what was going on. What you see depends upon where you’re standing. And our clients are, by and large, looking at the Alps from the United States. Or Canada. Or even from New Zealand. From that distance, a few beacons loom large. The Eiger and Matterhorn glow brightly, but for a trail runner, nothing outshines the Tour du Mont-Blanc—a stunning run through three countries, and home course to the world’s most famous ultra. It makes sense, for these are some of the most dramatic places in the world, let alone the Alps.

I took the message to heart, and to this day, those places remain our most popular destinations for Run the Alps guests. I moved my summer Run the Alps office from St. Luc, a town of 334 residents high in Switzerland’s Valais Alps…. to the lively alpine epicenter of Chamonix, France—inarguably, the world’s hub for trail running.

But, here’s the thing. I haven’t forgotten about those tranquil valleys—and countless others that are still on my radar.

A shepherd with sheep

Tucked away in Val Ferret, Switzerland, you still see things like this.

Want to run all day through pastures, over a glacier, and see just a few shepherds and a hut caretaker? No problem.

Want to run from Switzerland to Italy to Switzerland, then dine with monks at a thousand-year-old monastery? Check.

How about beers at a little-known microbrewery in a village of 697 residents, at the end of a long valley, ringed by 4000 meter peaks? Got that, too.

There are even quieter places to trail run, but—hey!–  we hardly know each other. Tick one or two of these off, and I’ll email you even quieter Alp runs. FedEx me a really tasty chocolate croissant, and I might even give up the coordinates of a farm where you can buy some of Geneva’s most sought-after cheese, right from the farmer. For a third of the cost. Bring your own bag, and be ready to run. It’s high up in the Chablais region.

Chamonix, Zermatt, and Grindelwald call us to the Alps. But it’s places like Durand Fenêtre, Finhaut, and the Turtmann Valley that keep some of us coming back. And, oh, did I mention that Run the Alps can organize a trip to more than a few of these places?  Just in case you ever wonder what’s up that quiet-looking valley, as you speed by on the train between Grindelwald and Zermatt. Chances are pretty good that a trail runs through it. 

By Doug Mayer

Doug is the owner of Run the Alps, and a regular visitor to locals-only trails around the Alps.

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