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Stairways to Heaven

Stairways to Heaven

Oct 16, 2021
Ritom Funicular Railway

Stairways to Heaven

Stairways to Heaven is a challenging endurance race that takes place on the steps alongside the Ritom funicular railway in Canton Ticino. The funicular track begins at Piotta, in the valley of the Ticino River, and finishes at Piora, which is close to a lake called Lake Ritom. The race was due to take place in May 2021, but instead, it’s being held on October 16, 2021. 

Running up 4.261 steps

The running course is extraordinarily challenging: runners scale a 1,3-kilometre distance at 780 vertical metres (that's almost twice the height of the Empire State Building), covering a total of 4.261 concrete steps. The stairway is quite steep: the slope varies from 71 percent to 89 percent! With a course this steep, in many ways it's more of a strenuous climb than a run! The runners go in single file, in 45-second intervals, since the staircase is narrow.

A race on the steps next to the funicular tracks

Technically, the steps are a service route for employees of the funicular only, but the public is allowed to use the steps once a year. In fact, anybody attempting to use the steps at any other time of year would face serious consequences, such as being disqualified from any future Stairways to Heaven races.

Stairways to Heaven is not the only Swiss endurance race taking place on a set of steps beside a funicular railway. The Niesen stairway - the longest set of steps in the world - consists of 11.674 steps, alongside the Niesen funicular railway - the world's longest funicular track - on a 3,4km route. The public is allowed to use the steps once a year for the “Niesenlauf” race.

Stairways to Heaven schedule 

The race takes place from 10am-2pm. There are a few places where spectators can watch the race: at the start, from the road in one of the places where it crosses the route or the area of the top cable-car station. 

Here is the schedule for Stairways to Heaven on October 16:

  • 7am-9am: Runners collect their racing bibs with their race number on them.
  • 9am: Runners’ backpacks will be transported to the finish line area
  • 9.30am: Mandatory race briefing 
  • 10am: Race begins. First runner starts, followed by the next in 45-second intervals
  • 2pm: End of race
  • 3pm: Prizegiving ceremony

Athlete running up concrete steps

Getting to the Stairways to Heaven starting line

If you’re coming by public transport, note that the closest train station is Ambri-Piotta (approx. 1,5 km from the venue), and the closest bus stop is Piotta Nord.

For anyone driving, it’s important to be aware that parking is very limited. You get there via motorway A2 (E35). If you’re coming from the south take the exit 42-Quinto towards Quinto / Ambri-Piotta / Rodi / Dalpe. If you’re coming from the north take exit 41-Airolo. Follow the signs towards the Ritom funicular railway.

Take part in Stairways to Heaven

Register on the Stairway to Heaven website and start training! Please note that race bibs are distributed only in the race village on the day of the race, rather than being sent in advance by post.