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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
A 1957 Ferrari 250TDF prepares to compete in the queens on wheels category at the International Concours of Elegance in St. Moritz. (Photographs by Alberto Bernasconi for The Washington Post)

Fast and luxurious: The frozen Swiss lake where the ultrarich race

For two days a year, the ski town of St. Moritz morphs into an over-the-top event with million-dollar cars, Champagne and dogs in tiny coats

2 min

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland — When most people think of the luxury alpine resort town of St. Moritz in Switzerland’s Engadin valley, they imagine serene log cabins, skiing that’s challenging for Olympians and heated pools overlooking one of the most pristine mountain ranges in the world. But for two days a year in February, the small town becomes a rumbling, gasoline-scented race venue for the ultrawealthy and their one-of-a-kind vintage cars.

It all began when founder Marco Makaus witnessed a group of tourists attending the Cresta Run, an annual toboggan race, in 1985. The tourists rode into St. Moritz in vintage Bentleys, and it sparked the interest of everyone there. Makaus said the unforgettable image of countless vintage cars speeding on a frozen lake stuck with him for many years.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Makaus re-created the event he saw in the 1980s by founding the International Concours of Elegance (ICE), a European racing event that takes place on the frozen lake of St. Moritz. After holding a test edition of the race in 2019, Makaus knew it was a success. This year, the ultraluxury event drew some 11,000 attendees and car owners from all over the world.

The event begins with quality checks on the lake in the days leading up to the race. As soon as the ice reaches a minimum thickness of 10 inches, crash tests are carried out with weights of nearly 17,000 pounds by driving a 7,500-pound snow-track vehicle fitted with safety floats. After that, the lake is cleared for the construction of the event village, which includes a bar and a skating rink where drinks are delivered by professional figure skaters.

Most attendees share a similar interest in rare cars. One car that grabbed the attention of many of the attendees was the Pagani Huayra Codalunga supercar. The vehicle is estimated to be worth roughly $7.4 million; only five exist in the world today. The car boasts an 840-horsepower engine created by Mercedes-AMG. The vehicle was brought to St. Moritz by its owner for display only.

Simon Kidston, a British commentator and car expert, attended with his Bugatti Type 35. The car previously belonged to his uncle, and after selling the vehicle many years ago, Kidston crossed continents to find the car and bring it home. For him, racing and presenting his uncle’s car have little to do with the monetary value of the vehicle. “The value [of the race] is profoundly sentimental. That’s why I’m excited to be here,” he said.

Alberto Bernasconi is a photographer based in Milan. You can follow him on Instagram at @albertobernasconi_photo.


A previous version of this article gave an incorrect spelling for the surname of Petra and Bruno Zumsteg. This version has been corrected.