By Filippo Caon
Talk about UTMB comprehensively in one article is impossible. In the middle of the Chamonix blender we end up with races, product presentations, social runs, live streaming, interviews, corporate events, the expo. So, in addition to the race report that will come out in the next print issue, we decided to tell you about Chamonix in ten points, and what we think about it.
After years of The North Face, Columbia and a single year of Hoka, for the first time in UTMB’s history the main sponsor of the event is a brand that has nothing to do with the running world. The announcement of the partnership with Dacia moved a major debate in the weeks leading up to the race, the main topic of which was the contrast between the alleged environmentalist inspiration of trail running and Dacia. As for the positive factors of this partnership there are the‘absence of conflict of interest between Dacia and industry brands, which were previously overshadowed by a totalized Hoka presence, and the‘introduction of non-industry sponsors in trail running, which will undoubtedly lead, for better or worse, to the growth of the sport in the coming years, and of which UTMB is one of the main promoters. In terms of sponsor impact during Chamonix week we note a very unobtrusive presence of Dacia, compared to a monumental Hoka and Camelbak presence at the expo, both minor partners in the race.
2. The press room cafe
The policy by UTMB regarding press accreditation is quite simple: they accredit anyone. From Meghan Hicks of iRunFar to the youtuber with fifty followers, simply register the name of your Instagram page and they accept unconditionally. The reason for this is also quite simple: having so many journalists and so many media, regardless of their importance, corresponds to great interest in the event, and these numbers become very attractive when it comes to asking for money from sponsors the following year. There are different levels of accreditation, giving access to different services. Nonetheless, compared to a few years ago, these services seem to have been reduced more and more: the breakfast table in the press room is increasingly empty; the canteen has disappeared (in its place, in Chamonix, there is a giant crater with a crane in it); there are no more useless gadgets for journalists, and gone are the plastic backpacks full of flyers and paper brochures, which regularly ended up in the trash can outside the Majestic Convention Center three minutes after picking them up. The press pass still allows you to enter aid stations, ride the organization’s buses for free, plus, from this year it allows you to have a reserved space on the finish line. They are not important things in an absolute sense, but they are symptoms about the health of an event-small changes from year to year that tell us something about everything else.
3. Social running
Undoubtedly, social racing is one of the things that dampens Chamonix the most during UTMB week. Any company that can call itself such organizes collective races open to journalists, athletes or athletes’ crews. It’s a pretty simple marketing strategy: you dress twenty or thirty people in your product and send them slaloming through the flaneurs on Rue Michel Croz. Adding up the kilometers our editorial staff ran in Chamonix during the social races comes up with a good week’s load.
4. The five hundred Adidas
The effect a social run produces is limited to one hour in a week, so Adidas expanded their reach by giving away 500 pairs of the new Terrex Agravic Speed Ultra to anyone passing through their store at that time. The result, of course, is that for five days 500 people out of 50,000, 1 percent of the people in Chamonix, wore and carried those shoes around town. Retailers and other brands must have been delighted.
5. By UTMB: the UTMB World Series
For the first time, the UTMB races were the finals of the UTMB World Series circuit, which has emerged as the world’s highest-ranked private ultra-trail circuit since 2022. L‘somewhat Napoleonic work of the Poletti family has not changed much about the way the city is experienced during race week: UTMB is still UTMB, and perhaps the real change is more about the athletes’ schedule in the rest of the‘year and the qualification system than other than the totalizing presence of the new blue-by-UTMB pantone at the‘expo. In general, the new UTMB branding makes the event lose some of its poetry: multinationals are disliked by everyone, but eventually everyone will keep coming.
6. The Expo
Every year the Expo becomes more boring, and there are two reasons for this: one, there are more and more European brands and fewer and fewer non-European brands, and when you find the same products from the store next door, curiosity fades. Two, images of new products come out months and months before the launch, and then when the product comes out in earnest, almost always in Chamonix, it looks like you’ve seen it a thousand times before.
7. Chalets, parties
Large companies normally rent huge chalets during UTMB week in which to host their athletes, hold company meetings and team building, and hold presentations for journalists. Often, appetizers, dinners or parties are held at these places, and it is fun to go around the corporate parties and see the differences. New Balance rented a chalet three kilometers from the center, and you had to walk a very steep slope to get there. A very large window looked out onto an English-cut garden full of sofas. We drink a beer while looking at Mont Blanc de Tacul at sunset. They introduce the new NB Fuelcell Supercomp with carbon, it looks like a nice shoe. On the same evening, Hoka holds a party at the gondola station for L’Aiguille du Midi: it is a giant concrete structure. At the party are Dylan Bowman and Ryan Thrower, both wearing Hoka flip-flops worn strictly with socks. Dybo has a Freetrail cap, while Thrower has betrayed his employer and Oregon and wears a maroon Philadelphia Phills cap. They are both much taller than everyone here. Sage Canadey, a TDS veteran, is also there. There’s a soda machine full of cans of Floda, Michael Verteeg’s carbonated cola, produced in collaboration between Satisfy and Trail Runner Magazine, actually tastes like carbonated cola, but the label is funny. We stay for a while, then an intense fondue smell comes in and we leave.
8. Craft breweries
There are many craft breweries in Chamonix. Overcoming the initial price trauma, the best are Big Mountain, downtown, which serves beer from the brewery of the same name, and Big Horn, in south Chamonix, where they serve beer from Outer Range, a brewery with dual locations in Sallanches, French Alps, and Frisco, Rocky Mountains, Colorado. For an emotional attachment to both places we buy a pair of T-shirts. Companies that organize social runs that start from these breweries are by far the best.
After losing them for 20 years, the Americans finally settled on winning the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. In fact, five female athletes had already succeeded several times, for a total of nine editions. As for the men’s standings, the first few kilometers were déjà-vu from 2022, but the outcome very different. Jim Walmsley and Zach Miller ran a separate race, and being an editorial staff of Americanophiles (not to be confused with pro-Americans), we do not hide some enthusiasm derived from this. We will discuss this in more detail in the article coming out in the next issue of The Pill, so stick around.
Anotherwhocompeted separately was Courtney Dauwalter. Already a two-time winner and UTMB record holder, after winning Western States with a record and Hardrock with a record, Dauwalter decided to end the season with UTMB, looking to string a trifecta of 100-mile races all‘within the same summer, which is unlikely to be beaten or equaled in the coming years. Although she did not have an easy day and ran on average slower than her best time on the course, with moments of intense darkness spent staring at her toes inside a refreshment station, there was really never any contest: second Katharina Hartmuth, slower by forty minutes, third Blandine L‘Hirondel and fifth Fu-Zhao Xiang.