Definitely the ex-Spiridonians have the art of the formula. It was Jean Claude Pons, the creator of the race who insisted twice during an interview in Wider magazine in 2021: "Sierre-Zinal is not trail running, it's a mountain race".
Sierre-Zinal, mountain race
Let's put ourselves in context. In the 1970s, nature races had existed for a long time but only for a very small number, thanks to the passion of Jean-Claude Pons and a few pioneers close to the Spiridon movement. They showed us the way* (*trail in English) to democratize the discipline as Jean-Philippe Lefief 's "The Crazy History of Trail" explains very well.
The rise of the “Trail” terminology has only been codified since the mid-90s. The success of trail running has been amplified for almost 20 years and today it exceeds the number of road races in 2022. 1974?
In the early 1970s, mountain races were still relatively rare in Switzerland. Rather than being inspired by what already exists, Jean-Claude Pons decides to create his own race by following his innovative ideas. It traces a particularly long route of 31 km which connects the town of Sierre to the village of Zinal by crossing the Val d'Anniviers . The race is also open to everyone, which was far from the case for all races at the time. Thus women run on the same course as men and popular athletes are invited to participate in the "Tourist" category.
Despite the skepticism of local authorities, the first edition was a success. 422 runners reach the finish line. Cross-country skier Edi Hauser took the win ahead of the designated favourite, Olympic champion Gaston Roelants 2 .
Following the success of this first edition, Jean-Claude Pons was contacted by Tamini and Jeannotat, founders of the magazine Spiridon who wanted to promote the discipline of mountain running.
Also, when in 1974 Tamini was called upon to assist the organizer of the race, he obtained a festive meal after the finish for the more than 3,000 participants. And so that the most anonymous of runners can see up close and rub shoulders with the most prominent runners. In this case, more than for the extraordinary winner Hauser, a forester from Haut-Valais, bronze medalist in cross-country skiing in Sapporo, we only had eyes for the Belgian Gaston Roelants, world record holder of the hour, which shone for years on the slopes and the crosses and the roads everywhere.
The two men created the International Mountain Cup (CIME), the first edition of which took place in 1975.
The Sierre-Zinal race is included in the competition calendar. It is with the Sierre-Montana
race, the only race classified in category A, immediately confirming its international character 3 , 4
. In 1979, the CIME introduced a new event category called “Super”. It is reserved for races with difficulties such as a long course or a steep drop
. Sierre-Zinal is chosen as one of the three inaugural “Super” events.
Description and location
race is a 31 kilometer mountain race taking place in the Valais Alps and linking the town of Sierre to the village of Zinal by the eastern slope of the Val d'Anniviers. It is organized annually on the second Sunday of August. Sierre-Zinal is also called "the five 4000 race" from the name of the five mountains culminating at more than 4000 m, visible from the race route: Weisshorn
(4506 m), Zinalrothorn
(4221 m), Ober Gabelhorn
(4,063 m), Matterhorn
(4,478 m) and Dent Blanche
(4,357 m). The first edition of this mountain race took place in 1974.
Today the race is considered one of the most beautiful and difficult in the world, due to its exceptional course which crosses the mountains and pastures of the region. As you have understood, it is also known for its friendly and festive atmosphere, with many events and activities organized on the sidelines of the race.