I was last in Saas Fee in late April several years ago when the sun shone and after a day of ski touring, the apres ski was long and the memories hazy. I returned last weekend, to complete the Super 3, the series of Swiss amateur ski races in which I have been taking part in this winter.
Saas Fee hosts the Allalin-Rennen, the third in the series after the Belalp Hexe in Belalp and the Inferno Rennen in Murren.
Tagged as the highest amateur glacier ski race, for this 36th Allalin-Rennen race we headed up to try and make a recce of the course from its glacier start on the Thursday before the Friday team event. Unfortunately with limited visibility and high winds, there was no access up past the top of the Spielboden lift at 2870m.
So skiing the course blind on Friday morning was ‘interesting’ but the weather was clear.
The very top 100m was still not open, knocking around 40 seconds and 1km off the full 9km course.
Starting just below the revolving restaurant at Mittelallalin, at 3500m, in my team of four, I let the three guys take the lead spots and tried to tuck in behind. A long schuss starts the race followed by a blind steep drop with a compression at the bottom. Local Alex had told us to stay in the tuck, and with that I just held my breath and went for it. I’d lost sight of the boys so just weaved from left to right down the steeper section through the red gates, sharp left at the bottom, another steep section then in to a final right hand bend, avoiding the orange netting and in to the final long schuss to the end at the village level.
With fresh snow on the course, the pistes were in great condition and our team ‘Mallow Racing’ finished in 57th place (out of 70)
One of just two British teams, the other made up of two other super 3-ers and our local new friend Alex.
Alex suggested Waldhaus Bodmen for dinner -a 10 minute walk out of Saas Fee along a snowy, icy track and we came across this old traditional chalet, perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the lower village of Saas-Grund.
At one end of the restaurant is a huge animal pen full of rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens. I chose lamb for my main, just to save one of those little mites…altho to be fair I think they are there for entertainment value only…here’s hoping! The food is delicious, the setting stunning and the walk back an opportunity to digest the huge portions.
Individual race day and the weather had once again socked-in. With a lower start, from the Morenia restaurant, we were able to stay dry and head out just before our individual start numbers. The challenge was to stay low in the tuck, make all the gates in the tricky visibility and stay out of the netting. The fastest time was, 1min 59. My time was 3 mins 12, 6th place in my category, and winning me a basket of local cheese and sausage!
Jonas Bumann Allalin Rennen Race Director adds, “we had over 1000 racers for the 36th Allalin Rennen this weekend. It was a shame we could not start up on the glacier for Saturday’s main race but the Team event on Friday gave most skiers the chance to ski almost the full course. Next years event takes place over the 5/6 April 2019 and we hope to welcome even more skiers from around the world!”
I now have my Super 3 medal, and feel proud to be one of just 23 women to race the triple series this winter and the only British woman to take part.
Leaving on Sunday morning, the skies cleared offering stunning views of the cascading glaciers and pistes in the huge bowl and ski area above the village.
A resort that works for Kids, Tweens and Teens plus a skiing Grandad at Half Term: Wengen in Switzerland.NEW
My visit was a family visit.
A return to a resort I have been to many times but not with my family for a couple of years – like many Wengen regulars we were lured back by its enduring appeal for families.
My dad, now 72, wanted another ski with his grandchildren before his various ailments curtail his skiing.
To cut a long story short I ended up taking half of his eight grandchildren to Wengen;
One young one, a couple of ‘tweens’ and one teen, along with my father “grandad”, whose own health has been a bit suspect of late.
Wengen worked for everyone.
Tired legs – young and old – can come down from the mountains by train or cable car.
Teens can hoon around the circuit from the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg and speed down the Lauberhorn back to the village.
The teen found some fellow skiing teens who he has met before in Wengen = happy teen!
Grandad liked to have a regular break at lunchtime in the sunshine when it appeared or was happy to latch on to a random group over a bowl of soup at ‘the station restaurant’ at Kleine Schiedegg.
Mobile phones make it even easier these days to connect with everyone but the joy of Wengen is the accessibility of its slopes using the excellent trains.
Plus the stand out wigwam – an easy meeting point come rain or shine (and we had both!).
If you want to ski back to the village base, there are options to suit all abilities and on our final full day in the sunshine all the grandchildren made it down the famous 4.5km Lauberhorn Downhill run, a proud moment!
Despite it being half term, we avoided the cable car queues in the morning with early starts.
Not once did we queue at Grindelwald for a bubble or return train up the mountain.
The blue run through the trees to ‘Brandegg’ and all the way down became a favourite for all ages, younger legs darting in and out of the bumps and paths in amongst the woods and snow banks and the older less flexible legs finding the smooth path between the woods easy to turn on.
There are a few ski resorts which work well for mixed ability and mixed age groups but none that I have been to, make it as easy as Wengen.
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:
Looking to try something fun and different I grabbed the opportunity to take part with a small team of others, one of whom had taken part last season – then he was the only British person among 500+ skiers.
This season we initially had a team of five, me being the only British female to enter, then three other British skiers joined us, Cleeves Palmer, President of the Kandahar Ski Club and fellow Kandahar skiers Ed Killwick and Nick Kennett as well as one lively Aussie, Andrew.
We had two days in the resort to check out the course and surrounding the ski area at Belalp.
This looks small on the piste map with only six lifts but a tunnel at the top of the mountain opens up a huge off piste bowl below Belgrat at 3,334m.
Sadly we didn’t have the time (or the fat skis) to explore this off piste area but we skied over to the far side of the resort to see the old Belalp Hotel, built in the late 1850s “to look after English Guests’.
English Naturalist and Alpinist John Tyndell visited for 44 consecutive summers and the black run down to the hotel is named after him.
The views from the hotel up to the Aletsch Glacier are stunning and the original tiny church above the hotel still sits like something out of a fairy tale.
The night before the Hexe race we watched a series of fire throwers dancing wildly around a towering ‘witches cauldron’ before setting this alight, followed by more wild witch dancing and Swiss oompah band joining in the ritual.
Legend has it a witch who could turn into a raven pooed in to the eyes of her cherry-picking husband (she had a more favoured lover).
The husband fell out of the tree and died…
This annual ski race and dressing up witch festival honours this poor man!
Back to race day and we soon realised that our race was just one of the highlights of the day.
The other and far more fun event is the witches’ race.
Costumes are worked on all year apparently and this was evident as the witches gently parade down the course.
This was a far cry from our race earlier in the morning, won by Valais local, Christoph Escher who smashed his own record with a time of 10 minutes flat becoming this year’s “Hexen Meister”.
My 14.25 time earnt me a ‘silver’ place – among our team we had 3 silvers and 5 bronzes between us.
The oldest participant was 81, and among the 478 total racers only 50 were women.
For race day we had perfect conditions, creamy pistes and bluebird skies.
We raced on the full course – the first time in over five years that the full course has been able to run – from the top of Hohstock at 3,118 m down the 12km course finishing in Blatten at 1,322m – 1,800m of descent.
The course starts on the black piste with a couple of scary tight hairpin bends in the steeper upper section with a compression to suck the air out of you and then moves on to a series of straight rollers where the best racers tuck the entire way.
Moving down the valley the track becomes a series of rutted switchbacks past ancient buildings and finishing down in Blatten village.
With all of our team safely down we took the lifts back up to enjoy the party on the slopes as the many wizards and witches entertain the crowds.
Later in the afternoon, the highly contested ‘best dressed witch group’ is awarded to pumping music and a huge crowd.
This years ‘Adams family’ were the stand out winners.
Winning witches – Adams Family
One of the best dressed winning witches rubs shoulders with Vanessa who won Silver: Gold & Silver casting a Hex of their own!
Next up in the Super 3 series is the ‘Inferno in Murren’, taking place later this week.
Good Luck in the Inferno .. the word is loosly defined “as a large fire that is dangerously out of control” – could that be an apt description of the race?
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/