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Nostalgic races on Grindelwald slopes

Tourists check out the run before descending by "velogemel" (picture: Grindelwald tourism)

Grindelwald will be playing host in February to two unconventional mountain races where style counts as much as speed. Competitors will take to the slopes on wooden snow bicycles and transport sledges.

Entrants in the first event on February 4 will race specially made bicycles down the slopes. Instead of wheels, the "velogemel" has two metal runners on its wooden frame.

It was first developed in 1912 by a local carpenter looking for a fast way to get to his customers on cold, winter days. Although plastic imitations have appeared at resorts across the Alps, Grindelwald is the only place where a wooden version, true to the original, is still made.

Three weeks later on February 24 large transport sledges will be converted into racing vehicles. The "Horischlitten" event starts at the foot of the Eiger North Face and ends four steep kilometres later in the valley below.

The sledge got its name from two wooden front "horns" which serve as handles. It was first developed by farmers to transport heavy loads of hay and timber from the mountains down to the villages.

The large sledge is still one of the most practical and efficient means of transporting goods in alpine towns in winter. But today it's often put to use to carry tourists' luggage from railway stations to their hotels.

Only original Horischlitten are permitted in the race and many entrants, in keeping with the spirit of the competition, don traditional farmer's dress instead of sleek racing costumes.

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