Carina Evans is the first woman in 90 years to complete the full Cresta Run, and the fastest British woman on this treacherous ice shute. With International Women's Day being celebrated this month Cindy Burrowes went to meet her at her home in Hurley.
The Cresta Run is a legendary, natural ice, racing toboggan track in the Swiss mountain town of St Mortiz. It was first built in 1885, and is still built annually by hand, by the same person year on year.
It is a James Bond-esque feat of bravery to complete the 1.2km (0.753 miles) run that drops 157m (515 feet) from top to bottom. The Cresta Run is dedicated to the wholly amateur sport of head-first sledding on varying forms of the skeleton toboggan, which is the professional version of the sport.
The run is maintained by the St Moritz Tobogganing Club (SMTC) and the people of St Moritz. It has varying entry points from Top to Junction and a severe bend called Shuttlecock, so named because in the days of yore, when ladies tobogganed in long skirts, if they flew out of this bend they looked like shuttlecocks in the air. This all sounds very obscure, cloak-and-dagger, and elite, to the lay person to whom tobogganing means sitting on a piece of plastic, feet first. So it is a surprise to meet the first British woman to conquer this dangerous ice run since 1929.
Carina Evans is diminutive and smiley. She exudes energy and strength, but she is also feminine and delicate with a penchant for traditional choral singing, and riding. She is CEO of her award winning Hurley based company Podium Pet Products, whose best seller is Dog Rocks (rocks that sit in a dog's water bowl, and help prevent their urine burning the grass).
So how did she come to lie face first on a metal toboggan and throw herself down the Cresta Run in plumes of ice smoke? The SMTC does allow women and children to race down the track, from Junction and lower and so Carina has been riding on the Cresta Run for most of her life as her father, former Gurkha, Lieutenant Colonel Digby Willoughby, MC MBE (who died in 2007) was the Chief Executive of the SMTC for 24 years. There is an annual women's race, down the shorter course, from Junction and Carina still holds the British women's record on this.
Interestingly, the fastest man down the full Cresta Run is Lord Clifton Wrottesley, 50, who also lives locally. His record time is 49.92 seconds. So, Carina has grown up in the traditions of the amateur sports club, where members apply to race down the run.
“This is one of the only truly amateur sports that still exists – it is a very non-commercial private club,” explained Carina who then saw that women in the armed forces were being allowed to race more on the track.
“They were getting ten year's worth of riding in one year, and I thought, one of them is going to get better than me, so I thought 'if you can't beat them, join them'.”
So, with steely resolve, she joined the 7 Rifle Army Reserves. And on January 24 after 18 months of training, planning, tutelage and support from home Carina realised her dream, just after the ban on women completing the course was lifted.
“The reason I did it was that a fellow member's son died on boxing day in 2017, and for his family and the wider family of the club it was a real blow, it was another reason to think I can't sit behind my computer for 14 hours a day. You only have one shot at this life. I dedicated my ride to him,” explained Carina.
“That was the catalyst for me to grasp the nettle, I am not sure that without it I would have got off the pot to do it.” To achieve the success Carina had to spend many hours training on the ice, as well as with the army reserves, and it requires an investment in time and equipment, as well as detailed planning. It is a very physical sport, because the rider has to manage the toboggan with every inch of their body, even when it is fighting speed and gravity. Carina feels she has reached peak fitness, at 41, due to her membership of the Army Reserves, which she believes is one of the best things to come out of her Cresta Run triumph.
She loves serving, and is working her way up the ranks. “It was one of those rare occasion where everything that you have planned and dreamed off and put into place and just dared to imagine, one of those personal goals, actually comes off. I dared to dream,” said an elated Carina, who explains that with the speed (82.87 MPH is the fastest recorded on the Cresta Run), the drop from the top (36%gradient at the steepest bit) and the fear (five people have died) – it is all a mind game at this stage. “Inside your helmet you feel completely free when all I have to think about is what I am doing,” she said.
She speaks with true affection for the SMTC, and is clearly honoured to be the first woman down the run after 67 per cent of the members voted to lift the ban. It is believed the ban came into force following the death of two women and quite a lot of injuries. However Carina suspects that some of the women were beginning to beat their husbands, and that may have had a bearing on the ban.
“The club has now done what every other British club has done which is to be sensible, agile, its shed its skin, its evolving and moving with the times and it is allowing women to ride, and, if they are good enough, to ride in the same parameters as men,“ said Carina who explains that applicants to join the SMTC are usually turned down at least twice. So what is the club looking for in its members? “Dull won't do,” said Carina. ”You have got to be able to hold your head and ride relatively well but being a professional about Cresta, an amateur sport, is frowned upon – so taking anything, including life, too seriously, won't do you any favours in getting membership of the club.”
She added that discretion is paramount as the SMTC is very protective of its diverse, worldwide members, which include, royalty, members of the armed services, doctors and refuse collectors. Carina's two daughters Marina (12) and Isabella (13) have tobogganed down the shorter course for three years, and love it. And Carina's husband Nick, a polo professional, is also a keen amateur Cresta Run rider.