Creating a Trail Running Grand Tour Through the Swiss Alps

 
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Words By Kimberly Strom, Photos by Dan Patitucci

 

Skiers have the Haute Route. Hikers have the Tour du Mont Blanc. We decided it’s time for trail runners to have their own tour too. A grand tour through the Alps designed especially for running.

Our trail “committee” began with Janine and Dan Patitucci, a husband-and-wife team of mountain-sport photographers. Over the past 20 years, they’ve run all over the world, and this is the route, the experience, they’ve recognized is missing for runners. 

The previous summer, we created the “30 Must-Do” routes for the first trail running guidebook to the Swiss Alps. Nearly half of the must-do trails we found were in the Valais region, so the Valais seemed to be the place to build our tour.

 
 

We wondered what the journey would be like to connect some of our favorite runs from the guidebook. As soon as we wondered aloud, Janine revealed she had already mapped a rough version of a route that linked several of them. Within minutes, we were examining the red line she drew through the Valais. And within a few weeks, we set out to test that red line.

In September 2018, Dan, Janine, and I met up with a few good friends and avid trail runners to fine-tune the route. It didn’t come that easy though. For quality control, we’d explore multiple options to make the connections. We had some bushwhacking, a few wrong turns, do-overs, and multiple miss-starts. But eventually we found what we were looking for - the connecting trails to put the Via Valais together.

 
 

Via Valais: The Route

The final route: over 225 kilometers and 14,000 meters of gain on trails ideal for running. Connecting Verbier and Zermatt in nine stages, the terrain is technical and challenging on its high passes and summits, but with long stretching ribbons of perfectly buffed singletrack.

Beneath Switzerland’s highest peaks, beside glaciers, and weaving in and out of wildly beautiful valleys, the tour passes through the very best views of the Swiss Alps. It passes some of Europe’s biggest, highest and longest. It’s a route to aspire to. It’s hard. And to make it harder, each stage has an optional bonus peak to run or scramble for the overly-motivated.  

The route is not signposted, so it’s critical to have good maps and a navigation device. With FATMAP Explore you can also download all the maps for the route offline, so you don’t have to rely on mobile signal. You’ll also get access to important Terrain Tools that give you information on snow levels and customisable overlays.

| Trail runners: Learn how to avoid the snow using the new FATMAP Snow Layers

Each stage ends at a mountain hut high along the route or by dropping into town for a much needed shower and restock.

You can view all 9 stages of the Via Valais route in the FATMAP Guidebook here and here’s the breakdown of each individual stage:

STAGE 1   Verbier to Cabane d’Essertze 29km 1119m+/1113m-   

STAGE 2   Cabane d’Essertze to Cabane Aiguille Rouge 30km  1783m+/1178m-    

STAGE 3   Cabane Aiguille Rouge to Cabane Becs de Bosson 25km  2220m+/2052m-    

STAGE 4   Cabane Becs de Bosson to Cabane de Moiry 17km  868m+/1025m-  

STAGE 5   Cabane de Moiry to Zinal 24km 1064m+/2215m-   

STAGE 6   Zinal to Turtmann Hut 19km 1687m+/841m-    

STAGE 7   Turtmann Hut to Randa  18km  1376m+/2453m-   

STAGE 8   Randa to Mountain Lodge Ze Seewjinu 25km 2025m+/1171m-    

STAGE 9   Mountain Lodge Ze Seewjinu to Zermatt 27km  1254m+/1942m-   

 
Via Valais FATMAP Stage 9
 

Full info for running the Via Valais (logistics, packing, travel, and training tips): elevation.alpsinsight.com/via-valais


 
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Kimberly Strom is a passionate trail runner, writer and photographer. Along with the Patituccis, she produced the Run the Alps Switzerland guidebook, and co-founded both Elevation : The Alps Trail & Peak Running Resource and the Via Valais.

You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.