Thousands of horse races are held every year around the world. There is, however, one horse race that is very unique and takes place in winter in St. Moritz.: White Turf.
Nowhere else in the world, can you watch a horse race on a frozen lake with a stunning backdrop of snow-covered landscapes. Yes, you read that correctly: the “Turf” is white, because the horse race takes place on a frozen lake at an altitude of 1768 metres.
I first went to White Turf over a decade ago, and the memory is still with me.
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What is White Turf?
Originating in 1907, this iconic gathering began as a humble bet among locals on Lake St. Moritz. Over time, it blossomed into a distinguished festival, attracting enthusiasts from across the globe. What started as a small competition has now evolved into a renowned spectacle for young and old.
On top of the professional horse races, there are family days with races for the young and upcoming, numerous food stalls and an ice skating/hockey field on which you can test your own skills. And let’s not forget about the people watching: we are in St.-Moritz after all and it is real fun to watch the jet setters casually strolling past in their thick (perhaps faux) fur coats, holding champagne in one hand and a perfectly groomed dog in the other.
As a spectator watching the races unfold and the horses thundering past, you very easily forget that you are standing or sitting on a frozen lake of 750 000m2 with a depth of 44m and ice that is 40-80cm thick.
You absolutely need to add The White Turf to your bucket list when visiting Switzerland in February. Trust me, once you experience it, you’ll be longing to return time and time again.
Types of races
During the White Turf you can watch the following races (during the Family Days ponies are used in the races)
Skijoring / Skikjöring
In skijoring or skikjöring (originally Norwegian) a person on skis is pulled by a horse. This is nothing for the faint-hearted. Witnessing the skiers race across the ice at an electrifying pace of up to 60 km/hours will leave you breathless. (Family Days: mounted Skijöring)
In 1911, this last discipline joined the horse races and completed the program. Thoroughbreds and their jockeys speed over the ice as it’s the most normal thing in the world. But nothing is straightforward about this: no one really knows which horse is going to cope best with the unusual surface.
Given the fact the lake needs to be fully frozen, the jockeys and their horses had very little time to train, so it’s anyone’s bet on who’s going to win this year.
This race might be the most spectacular one. A lightweight sulky, steered by a driver, is harnessed to a horse that races at a precise gait. The sulky is ultra-light, equipped with aluminum blades to achieve top speeds. Secure a spot in the first row, particularly at the first corner, as the drivers navigate that initial turn at full speed, creating an intense and nail-biting moment. Remember to take a breath!
One of the most fascinating parts of White Turf for me, was watching the people. If you have any experience with horse races (I come from Australia where we have the Melbourne Cup), people typical go all out to dress up for such things.
And White Turf is no exception. The only difference is it is usually below zero, and St Moritz attracts a very rich and eccentric crowd.
I could not believe the kinds of clothes and hats the rich were wearing at White Turf. Especially in a time of “save the animals”, it was stunning to see fur coats and hats everywhere. Not to mention how much champagne I saw people drinking! It is a festival for the rich and famous, and between races, we spend hours slack-jawed watching these people.
The White Turf always takes place in February. The dates for 2024 are as follows:
4, 11 and 18 February 2024
3, 10 and 17 February 2024
During the Racing Days horses thunder across the frozen lake in three different races: skijoring, gallop and trotting race. The detailed program can be found on the official website.
It’s all about speed and exceptional skills! No matter how often you’ve visited the White Turf, the scenes unfolding will leave you breathless every single time. It’s like stepping into a movie scene: horses racing across the frozen lake, whipping up an ice blizzard, jockeys skillfully guiding them, all set against a backdrop of clear blue skies and majestic snow-capped mountains.
All this while sipping a glass of wine, eating a sausage or enjoying some fine dining in the 130 000m2 event area with its gigantic tented city.
There are different price categories. We had a standing space and were very happy with it. We stood right at the edge of the racing track and had a great view.
|Standing Space – incl. race card and betting voucher
(Children up to 16 years free)
|Grandstand A – numbered – incl. race card and betting voucher
|Grandstand B – unnumbered – incl. race card and betting voucher
You can also opt for one of the more fancy VIP Packages and treat yourself to free drinks and maybe an oyster or two.
During the Family Days all eyes are on the young and upcoming talents. These races are held with ponies and are equally spectacular and fun to watch. The atmosphere is fantastic, making it easy to overlook that it’s not seasoned professionals on the track, but courageous kids and teenagers fearlessly racing at astonishing speeds on the ice.
In addition to the pony races, there is a lot more on offer: pony rides, lots of delicious food and mounted Skikjöring-Taxi rides for the little ones.
Registration takes place on the lake in the race office. Bring your own equipment (skis, ski boots, helmet and ski goggles).
And last but not least: admission to the site and the grandstands is free during the Family Days!
How to get there
St. Moritz is very easy to reach, no matter where you’re coming from or means of transport you’re using.
St. Moritz can be reached from Milan in 3 hours, from Munich in 4 hours and from Zurich in 3 hours.
Driving over the mountain passes is a beautiful in itself. Just be aware that a lot of passes are closed during winter. From more information on the road conditions click here (information only in German).
Another option is to transport your car via rail to Engadin through the Vereina Tunnel. The train runs every 30 minutes and transports you and your car in 18 minutes into the Engadine valley.
Remember: winter tyres are obligatory in Switzerland and if it snowed recently, snow chains and/or 4×4 is required to cross mountain passes.
Upon arrival, you can park at the Serletta car park (CHF 2.-/Hour). It is located directly opposite the main entrance to the lake. If the car park is already occupied on arrival, the police will automatically divert you to other parking spaces.
I can really recommend catching the train to St. Moritz. While you sit back and relax, the Rhaetian Railway takes you through a magic winter wonderland. The line running through Albula and Bernina is even part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It only takes 3 hours from Zurich to St. Moritz and 4,5 hours from Milan.
In many occasions you can also have your luggage transported by train, bus or maybe even your hotel offers a luggage service.
Are you not sure which pass or ticket to buy for your trip? Click here to find the best deal!