It was first organised by a group of ski-crazy brits in 1928, & today it’s the world’d largest amateur ski race. PlanetSKI partakes.
Regular readers will know I’m no virgin Inferno racer.
Bbut this year I am taking part in the Inferno as part of the Super 3, the Inferno Is the second race in a series of three amateur ski races that take place across Switzerland.
The pretty village of Mürren, in the Jungfrau Region, is the Inferno host resort offering stunning views over to the Eiger, spotted only once when the weather cleared.
A brief clear spell and there’s the Eiger
There are fewer than 200 of the maximum 1850 Inferno entrants taking part in the Super 3 and it was great to see some familiar faces from last weekend’s visit to Belalp and the Hexe race – Postcard from Belalp / Hexe Race.
With oodles of snow we were looking forward to skiing a full course but strangely, whereas in Belalp we’d had the total 12km course, here in Mürren, rain had battered the lower slopes.
So the switch back section of the course down to Lauterbrunnen was clearly not skiable.
Arriving to huge snowfalls mid last week, and then violent winds gusting through the area whilst skiing on Thursday, we had a feeling that the top section of the resort would not be open.
I had teamed up with my brother and two friends to make up our team of four.
Being a mass start, based on the original Inferno format of years ago, we lined up side by side at the top of the course.
Sadly this was only at Almendhubel as heavy snow and ongoing wind forced the organisers to choose a lower start point.
(C.Rob Webb) Team 108 at the start with Vanessa in Red
As the wooden board dropped away below our skis, we pushed out of the start gate with our team strategy in place.
Tuck in behind each other, send the fast ones first – one ex army para who is a super fit cross – country marathon skier, my brother, ex-army ski racer, then me and finally a friend and Kandahar Ski Club member Alex.
The course sent us up the ‘woodcutters’ path – an uphill section which also features in the main Inferno event.
With my team safely down, our individual times were too different to break in to the top 100 teams, but we were far from the slowest!
Vanessa 108-1 and her Team – Inferno 2018
Excitement levels rose when the organisers announced a break in the weather, enabling the Inferno downhill start to be moved up to Birg, still a way below the usual Schilthorn start but long enough to give more than a 3 minute race.
Our friends the German team ‘Racing Team Blitztal’ were found waxing their skis in the workshop close to our hotel – the Germans spending 4 hours on their skis and apparently adding an extra layer for the fast schuss along the upper section.
I left my team in charge of my skis requesting just a bit of wax if time!
Servicing skis pre 75th Inferno
Four hours later, the winds had picked up and once again the start for the 2018 75th Inferno was moved back down to the lower start at the top of the Almendhubel funicular lift with the finish to be in Murren.
As Christoph Egger, Race Director, pointed out – despite being a short course it is still longer than the longest FIS race plus, to give an extra twist, a small jump was placed just above the village centre finish.
The Germans were back in the workshop reapplying different wax, whatsapp messages were flying around my groups of participating friends as to whether a GS ski or a Super G ski would be more beneficial for this short course.
The customary burning of the devil took place.
It is said to ward off any bad spirits the night before the main Inferno race event, and still it carried on snowing.
Race day, it was still snowing on and off and heavy winds picked up as the day progressed, confirming the right decision to move the start down by the race organisers.
1705 skiers participated this year, the fastest, Marcel Fassler, coming down at number 525 in 2 mins 46 seconds and with the jump just before a fast left bend in to the finish there was certainly some added excitement to the otherwise short, fast course.
Vanessa at the Jump – Inferno 2018 – Pic: Rob Webb
Vanessa in a racing tuck Pic: Rob Webb
The route was running faster than the team event, I even knocked off over a minute off my time to earn a ‘bronze’ in my category and the 3rd fastest GB female in my category.
So with two races under my belt, it’s on to the third race in Saas Fee, the “Allalin-Rennen” in March.
We’ve had parading witches, burning cauldrons and devils…
I’m wondering what will come next…?
Vanessa in Red, flanked by Other Super-3 skiers after Inferno 2018
To get the feel for the Inferno have a quick look at the video below:
At the end of the 1960s, the film-makers were taken by the futuristic revolving restaurant on the Schilthorn mountain and the scenes involving the imaginary Piz Gloria were shot there.
Murren is the highest, continually inhabited village settlement in the canton of Bern and lies on a terrace at 1,650m, high above the Lauterbrunnen valley.
A double-cable ropeway leads up onto the plateau from Lauterbrunnen, while a cableway runs from Stechelberg, past turbulent waterfalls and craggy rock faces, into the centre of the car-free village of Mürren, and further to the Schilthorn at 2.970.
Here are 10 reasons why Murren should be on your ‘must-visit’ list:
The Village – Murren in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland is one of the most beautiful villages in the Alps. Perched on the side of the mountain, it really is picture postcard material. Car free and maintaining snow on the village paths throughout the winter it doesn’t get more attractive than this.
The View – with views across the valley to the Eiger (3970m) , Monch (4099m) and Jungfrau (4158m) mountains, a stay here takes your breath away. The panoramic doesn’t fail to impress each time I visit.
The new Thrill Walk at Birg. Not for the faint hearted, this new 200m metal path clings to the side of the mountain at Birg, wrapping around the mountain from its access at the back of the terrace behind the Birg restaurant, to the front side looking down the mountains. One section is just a thin metal wire…don’t look down!
007 –The James Bond Film, ‘ On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was filmed here – watch the movie and see the revolving restaurant at Piz Gloria still looking remarkably similar. The revamped Bond Experiencea within the Piz Gloria building is really fun to spend some time in.
The skiing – The ski area doesn’t look huge but with it has something for everyone. The top steep sections down to the narrow Kanonenrohr run between the rocks; the blue runs through the trees down to the village; the lovely long s-bends down to Lauterbrunnen (when snow allows) and the easy nursery slopes in the middle of the village.
The restaurants – choose from the old Suppenalp restaurant just above the village (you can even stay the night there), so cosy inside, or the little hut below the top of the Schiltgrat chair for hot chocolate with rum and cake, the lovely terrace at Birg for lunch with a view, or ski down to the village and sit outside the Hotel Jungfrau on its terrace and watch the beginners slopes under the sunshine. Again plenty of options for all tastes.
The Inferno – each January over 1,800 skiers descend on the village to take part in The Inferno. A huge 14.9km downhill race (including several uphill sections) where competitors are set off at approx. 10 second intervals. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018, there are plans for a new Inferno team event, the ‘Sir Arnold Lunn Cup’ where the competitors will start at the same time.
History – British ski pioneers the Lunns still have family living in Murren. Sir Arnold Lunn organised the first slalom race here in 1922, a few years after his father Sir Henry Lunn first brought winter holidaymakers to the village. The Kandahar Ski Club, which was founded in Murren in 1924, is still going strong and runs a regular ski race training programme for children and is fundamental in the number of British taking part in the Inferno ski race each winter.
Access – as Murren is car free, all cars park in Lauterbrunnen in the valley. Why not travel by train? All the airports close by – Basel, Bern and Zurich offer train travel to Lauterbrunnen and then connect with the cable car and small cog railway to the village itself.
Not just for winter – Murren in summer is stunning too. Covered in wild flowers, perfect for short or long hikes, try the via ferrata. Take the train down to Interlaken for some shopping or a swim in the lake.
For further information visit: https://mymuerren.ch/en/winter/
Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2018, this ski race combines downhill racing with uphill climbs… on race skis! Competitors are capped at 1850 with over 2500 applying to race each year. The answer to securing your place is to become a member of a ski club (such as the Kandahar Ski Club who founded the event). You’ll also need to ensure your entry is in before the deadline of September 15, 2017 (entries can be submitted from May 2017).
The main downhill event is 14.9km long and competitors are set off at approximately 10-second intervals (sometimes the course is shorter, depending on snow conditions). As well as this there’s a cross-country ski race around the town of Mürren and a GS event – both taking place earlier in the week. For the 75th anniversary there are plans for a mass start team event – the ‘Sir Arnold Lunn Cup’, where all competitors will start at the same time. Entry cost is £55 for the downhill race. Find out more on the Inferno website.
Ranging through the Inferno. Image courtesy of Robert Webb
THE AMATEUR INTERCLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS – ALPBACH
Founded in 2008, this year’s Amateur Inter-Club Championships will be held in Alpbach, Austria and hosted by the Alpbach Visitors Ski Club – March 9-12, 2017. The Championships are an annual team event, held in March every year, and taking place in the home of the host club.
Races can be Slalom, GS or Super-G, at the discretion of the club, with teams of four racing ladies or gents in each group. This fun team event offers the following age categories: Men and Women 60+, 45-59 and 18-45. The fastest time of three members of the team count towards the overall time clocked. Visit the Amateur Interclub Championships website to find out more.
CITY SKI CHAMPIONSHIPS – VERBIER
Originally this weekend of racing was aimed at skiers working in the City of London and their organisations, but the invite now extends to many more businesses. The championships take place in Verbier in early February with teams of four taking part in a dual slalom on the Friday and a main GS race on the Saturday.
The weekend is as much about networking and having fun, with a full entertainment programme thrown in on the après front. Entries are open now for the 2018 weekend taking place from February 1-4, 2018 . Entry price is from £750pp. Find out more on the City Ski website.
THE TWEED RUN – DAVOS
Dress up in old-fashioned tweed and take part in this fun one-day event in the Swiss resort of Davos. This year’s event takes place on February 25 if you happen to be in Davos, otherwise next season it will be held towards the end of February 2018. This event for locals and guests attracts young and old. Two runs take place from 12.30pm and an evening ceremony is held at 6pm at the Hotel Bellevue Wiesen. It costs 20 CHF to enter. Get your tweed on and find out more about the race.
IGO N60° – NORWAY
The IGO N60° is a cross-country, 4-stage event covering ski touring and cross-country skiing, alongside fat biking and running. The challenge is to cover one hundred miles between Hemsedal and Geilo in Norway. Home to the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ raid, the race takes place across a challenging snowy landscape that has earned the respect of countless polar explorers, as well as the British Special Forces.
Even so, IGO is not exclusively aimed at the super-fit (though it would certainly help) – instead it’s all about your attitude. Previous competitors include members of the Special Forces, but also businessmen in their 60s and many more up for the challenge.
The four stages:
Day 1: Touring and Downhill Ski | 15 miles | Race time 4-9 hours
Day 2: Fat Biking | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-8 hours (followed by husky dogsled)
Day 3: Cross Country Ski | 26.2 miles | Race time 4-9 hours
Day 4: Marathon Run | 26.2 miles | Race time 3-6 hours
Taking part in this Norwegian Challenge can be arranged through IGO Adventures and includes training, flights, food and all transport costing from £4,500 per person. The expedition will run from March 11-19, 2017 and deadline for entry this year is February 28, 2017. Find out more at IGO Adventures.
DHO MCMILLAN CUP – WENGEN
This race, organised by the Downhill Only Club, takes place in the resort of Wengen in Switzerland on the first Thursday of February and is a massed start downhill race. The McMillan Cup is awarded to the fastest skier and was donated to the DHO by the family of Flying Officer Douglas McMillan. McMillan enjoyed skiing in Wengen in the 1920s and sadly died in a flying accident in 1928. The race was first held in 1929 in his memory.
THE SUPER 3 – MURREN, SAAS-FEE, BEL ALP
Many skiers have heard of the Inferno (see above). But only a very few have competed in the Super 3 – a series of three ski races across Switzerland (including the Inferno). All three are aimed at amateur skiers and take place in Bel Alp, Murren, and Saas-Fee.
The main Bel Alp Hexe race ‘Hexenabfahrt’ is a 12km course where most of the 1500 skiers dress up as witches! The spooky 1790-metre descent finishes in the little village of Batten beneath the Aletsch Glacier. Next year’s race takes place on January 13, 2018 with fun events throughout the week before the main race. Open for entries from 27 August – 12 January 2018 costing CHF 35.
The 9km Saas-Fee Allalin Race is one of the highest races in the Alps and takes place at the end of March to complete the Super 3 series. The race covers over 1800m of descent and is priced at CHF 50 per entry. Only three British people took part in the full Super 3 in 2017 – so who’s up for the challenge? Find out more on the official website.
Something wicked this way comes… The Bel Alp Hexe race
THE PARSENN DERBY – DAVOS
First run in 1924, the Parsenn Derby is one of the oldest downhill races in the world and is open to experienced amateur skiers. The race was founded jointly by the Davos Ski Club and the Davos English Ski Club and was run from the Parsennfurka down to Kublis. In 1933 the start was moved to the Weissfluhjoch. With a length of 12.5km and a vertical descent of some 2000m it became one of the most important events in the international ski world before the founding of the Ski World Cup.
The race has been adapted to the modern day and no longer runs down to Kublis – modern equipment and safety requirements rendering this impractical. To take part in the race you should be a strong black run skier comfortable skiing at fast speeds. The team event takes place on the Saturday and the individual on the Sunday. Around 500 skiers take part each year. This year’s race is scheduled for March 24-26, 2017. Find out more on the Parsenn Derby website.
SKI 4 CANCER – SAALBACH
Become a World Record holder on Thursday 9 March 2017 by taking part in Ski 4 Cancer’s Everest Challenge. The Challenge will take place on the slopes of Saalbach. Skiers will descend the height of Mount Everest (29,029ft / 8,848m) as one large group and raise funds for Ski 4 Cancer at the same time.
Any competent skier can take part – most intermediate skiers should be able to complete the Everest Challenge in about 6 hours. Advanced skiers will need slightly less time.
Eddie the Eagle Edwards will be taking part, and this year also sees the launch of a special fund: The Wenche Hammond Fund. Wenche, a good friend to many in the ski world, died from cancer last year at the age of 42, leaving behind her husband and daughter. Find out how you can enter on the Ski 4 Cancer website.
Last weekend the tiny Swiss village of Mürren came alive for the 74th Inferno Ski Race. PlanetSKI was in the start gate.
The amateur ski race attracts over 1,850 participants from all over the world; around 250 enter from the UK alone.
Starting just below the top of the Schilthorn, renown for the James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, and including at least one uphill climb on skis, this year’s 7.6km race finished in the centre of Mürren.
One amateur racer on the course… Credit photo Robert Webb
On a good snow year the full 14.9km course ends in Lauterbrunnen down in the valley.
Checking out the ski area in the days running up to the race, there was plenty to ski on in Mürren although the run to Winteregg below Mürren was a bit patchy and most of the recent fresh snowfall had gone.
On a day trip over to neighbouring Wengen we were able to ski untracked powder down to Grindelwald.
Back to the race – we had a beautiful clear day, just perfect conditions.
This year’s winning time was 7.10 minutes by racer with start number 17.
My time of 11.45 minutes as racer number 1381 earned me a ‘Bronze award’.
photo credit Robert Webb
Special thanks to the DHOfor lending me the streamlined catsuit!
The inferno parties are legendary- think beer-fest with live Swiss bands and teens to retirees all enjoying one huge sports hall with table dancing and more.
It creates a very special party atmosphere!
Check out more on the Inferno race and festivities here.
We left Mürren, after a short weekend visit, to go back to its beautiful, sleepy self… until next year when the devil will be burned again before the 75th anniversary Inferno ski race – already in the planning with a new pro-am style team race.
As the professional ski circuit hit Kitzbuhel, Austria for the infamous Hahnenkamm, with big name skiers getting injured on the mountain in tough conditions; just across the Alps, in Switzerland, a ski race on the amateur level was taking place. No less impressive in its backdrop or in the numbers taking part – this was ‘The Inferno’.
Now running in its 73rd year, The Inferno, in Mürren, combines tricky steep downhill skiing sections with stamina challenges over uphill stretches and long straight schuss’ to test the legs. This year’s race had the finish set at ‘Winteregg’, just 9.5km long (rather than the 14.9km when snow allows a finish at the bottom of the valley in Lauterbrunnen). The 2016 winner’s time, just 8.16 minutes, but more on that later.
Last year I posted a photo on the Mürren Facebook page and won a VIP place in this year’s Inferno ski race. That meant I had a very special start time of 8.56am, but what a double edged sword that turned out to be.
All VIPs (a mix of media, sponsors, photographers and me), as well as the ski patrol and the big Inferno chief Christoph Egger, had to be on the first cable car up the mountain at 7.10am. Skating on my race skis through the pretty, sleeping Mürren village in the dark, just before 7am was a strange experience – nerves already kicking in, I’d barely slept a wink and had woken practically every hour to make sure I hadn’t slept through the alarm.
Birg, the mid station at 2677m glowed in the darkness as we arrived into the rock face. Then, with just a few minutes wait we were on our way up the second cable car to the restaurant, Piz Gloria, at the Schilthorn, at 2970m. It was just after 7.30am and a strong wind didn’t do much for my nerves, the cable car bumping sideways into the top station.
Shortly after breakfast, Egger took to the microphone to explain, to nobody’s surprise, that due to bad weather, the race would have to be delayed without doubt and dependent on a helicopter being able to fly, the course may be moved lower down the mountain.
As the restaurant vibrated to the blast of avalanche bombs we knew that the chopper was out there making the course safe for the 1850 racers. Then the announcement came that we had lift-off, as it were, albeit with an hour’s delay.
Just after 10am, the first racers set off down the Inferno ski course. The top schuss was clear of the thick cloud that had been billowing in and out all morning. My early start number, a confusing number ‘1819’ meant i was about the 30th racer down the course. In my head I’d envisioned a corduroy course and a faster time (this being my 6th consecutive year of racing, but not with this early start).
The top section of my race went ok. My skis wobbled a bit on the first steep pitch before the long schuss, which was unnerving. After the second schuss and climb out I was pretty tired, but nothing prepared me for the thick cloud, snow and fog which appeared as I careered around the corner above the narrow Kanonenrohr section. My goggles had completely fogged up and were snowed over, I could not see anything between the gates and the blue painted lines on the snow that show the course had vanished. I found myself stationary without a clue where I was.
Trying not to panic I sort of snowploughed around for a bit and suddenly saw someone way over to my left (skiers are set off in roughly 12 second intervals). Realising I was way off track I skidded through the narrowest section of the course, veered way off the next section and before I knew it was on the ‘shoulder’ at the top of the Allmendhubel funicular, normally a place for tucking straight for the crowd followed by a huge left bend. I managed the tuck – see picture below – but was too late to get much speed up for the climb up ‘woodcutters’. After a slow climb and a painful few last piste stretches, and one final uphill climb to Winteregg – I’d pretty much written off my run. At 16 minutes and 17 seconds this my slowest time and worst Inferno race ever.
copyright image Robert Webb
Less than two hours later, the weather had cleared and my friends were flying down with super-fast times. I was pretty gutted for myself, having had high hopes with my special early start number, but the feeling didn’t last long as the local bands started playing, the beer started flowing and the camaraderie of everyone supporting each other took over.
image copyright Rhan Francis
Everyone has an inferno story, a tough climb, a fall on the corner, a faster time, a slower time. The Inferno 2016 winner, Brian Brog from Meiringen, came through in bib no 1753 at around 4pm in 8 minutes and 16 seconds – the temperature having dropped and the course running faster as the day progressed.
Cheers went up just before this for the main ‘celebrity’ racer of the day, Pippa Middleton. She had raced all three events in the Inferno, the x-country, the GS and then this main downhill event. Her first Inferno and she completed it in just over 12 minutes.
Image Copyright Rhian Francis
I guess I’ll just have to go back and try again next year!