Nov. 30, 2012 at 10:52 AM ET
If your mental image of Old St. Nick is of a jolly fat man sitting on his duff for hours on end, it’s safe to say you've never been to Samnaun, Switzerland. In this village in the Swiss Alps, Santa runs, skis, climbs and snowshoes like an Olympian.
Or make that Olympians, as 60 of them will convene here on Saturday to compete in ClauWau, aka, the World Championship of Santa Clauses. Between the offbeat events and other festivities, we suspect these guys (and girls) aren't fueling their efforts with cookies and milk.
According to event manager Josef Schmid, the festivities are an outgrowth of a local tradition in which residents would toss sweets and candies to children as the latter walked the streets, singing songs and playing music.
“ClauWau,” said Schmid, “is like a reward; it means to pick up something.”
These days, the competing Clauses don’t pick up candy, but rather, packages that provide bonus points during a series of team events. Among them:
After these and other events, the competition comes down to four final teams that compete in dual-heat relays involving toboggans, balancing on tree trunks and barrel-stave ski races. Between Santas careening downhill, flying through the air and tumbling head over heels, there’s enough red-suited mayhem to make even the grouchiest Grinch crack a grin.
“It’s very sporting,” said Schmid, “but it’s also a lot of fun.” Potentially profitable, too, as the winning team takes home 1,500 Swiss francs, or roughly US$1,600.
Now, that’s what we’d call putting some ho-ho-ho in the holidays.
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.