Cresta

'Bobsleigh Berglas to Ride Again' reported Abracadabra magazine in 1954. David had returned to St. Moritz in Switzerland to try and improve upon his own bobsleigh record set the previous year.

He was no stranger to St Moritz. The Berglas family took regular skiing holidays there and, at the age of seven. David had attended a local boarding school called Belmont. It was located halfway up the Piznair Mountain and could be reached only by a cog-wheeled train, a kind of chain driven cable car. So skiing came naturally to David and later gave him an interest in other winter sports such as bobsledding and the infamous Cresta Run.

The Cresta Run is a three-quarter mile long trough of pure ice that stretches in a series of dangerous curves from St. Moritz' 'Leaning Tower' through the eponymous hamlet of Cresta and down to a village called Celerina. The five hundred-foot drop over steep gradients means that riders can reach speeds of up to ninety miles an hour.

St Moritz has always had an exclusive, chic air about it and the Cresta Run is the domain of the renowned St Moritz Tobogganing Club, an amateur sports association that has been home to many English aristocrats and European princes. Their chief form of fun is hurtling down the Cresta Run on skeletal sleds with only sheer nerve and daring for company. It is a unique and dangerous sport. Many a Toboggan Club member has set off down the slope on a metal sled and left in a wooden coffin. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club has been described as "a big boys club" and undoubtedly lives up to its exclusive reputation. Members talk of little else and while women are allowed to be members they are not encouraged to take part in the sport. It wouldn't be the gentlemanly thing to do.

David joined the Tobogganing Club in the early fifties and had ridden the Cresta successfully a number of times. He suggested to Fairchilds MacCarthy, the American Club Secretary, that it might be a good stunt if he attempted the run blindfolded. MacCarthy rejected the idea instantly. It was too dangerous. David was undeterred. I le approached the president of the club. Lord Brabazon of Tara. He was a large portly man, then in his sixties, but still able to ride the slopes with the best of them. His family had long been involved with the Cresta Run and shared a passion for adventurous sports. It was the first Lord Brabazon who said.

David skiiing in St. Moritz in 1953.

As part of a 4-man bobsleigh team, who achieved the fastest time of the season.

David skiiing in St. Moritz in 1953.

As part of a 4-man bobsleigh team, who achieved the fastest time of the season.

"The Cresta is like a woman with this cynical difference - to love her is to love her always." Not surprisingly the gung-ho Lord gave David the go ahead.

The sled used for the Cresta is known as a "skeleton" and is little more than a couple of metal runners linked together by a wooden board. The rider lies on the board, his chest across a sliding panel that enables him to shift his weight and adjust his course to take care of the runs sharp curves. Protective clothing is essential. Metal pads for the knees and elbows, a crash helmet, goggles and boots. The boots have spikes set at their toes and digging them into the ice is the only means of steering the skeleton.

David started his blindfold ride at Stream, a little way down from the top of the run. A committee placed cotton pads over his eyes, tied a cloth strip around his head to hold the cotton in place and then placed a black sack overall. A crash helmet, necessary safety equipment, completed the unusual preparation.

Satisfied that he could not see, the committee wished him good luck and David launched himself down the slope. Within seconds he was zooming down the mountain and through gullies of ice like a human bullet. He'd made sure he had some vision, despite the blindfolding, but it wasn't much. Ideally he would have to raise his head to see his way forward but this was impossible. He was face down riding a metal sled, his face only inches from the ice. Things were better on the curves, at least he could see some way in front but the curves were quickly gone and in a flash he was plummeting down the straights again.

David's challenge on the Cresta Run.

David's challenge on the Cresta Run.

His other aid was his memory. The Cresta Run is an intense experience and it makes an incredible impact on the mind. Experienced riders can visualise every twist and turn, reliving past races with vivid clarity. David could do this too, visualising the experience second for second with stopwatch accuracy. He had planned the stunt by first racing the slopes several times without the blindfold so that every detail of the course became familiar to him. Later, in the early hours of the morning, while lying in bed, he replayed the journey over and over in his mind, imagining how he would ride every' aspect of the course. It is a mental technique he has applied to many of his stunts.

As he raced down the slopes blindfolded, his memory filled in the gaps his vision could not supply. The most dangerous curve was called Shuttlecock. Dozens of riders have been thrown out of the track at that point never to return. David took it as carefully as he was able, digging the spikes in to slow his approach, and was thankful when it was gone.

David was fortunate. He completed the course and was feted by his fellow club members at the local bar where tales of daring were all part of a long night's celebrations. It was not, however, something he would ever want to do again.

Ironically the reason that Lord Brabazon of Tara thought that David's blindfold stunt was such a good idea was because the club was trying to play down just how hazardous the Cresta Run could be. If David could do it blindfold, he said, then surely it can't be that dangerous!

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