In January, Mürren in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland held its 72nd Inferno Ski Race. You can read all about my last Inferno race experience here, but while I was in resort for the race this year, I got to thinking about what makes skiers return to this normally sleepy little village to take part in what is a fairly bonkers race? And not only that, but why do plenty of non-racers come to offer their support year after year as well? It makes for a really special atmosphere in the village, around the slopes and on and off the lifts. Here‘s my thinking!
How the race works
The Inferno race, now in its 72nd year, was founded by The Kandahar Ski Club in 1928 by some crazy English skiers. It is now one of the largest amateur ski races in the world. The entry is capped at 1850 skiers, but many more apply each year.
If you achieve a ‘bronze’ award for your race time, and belong to a ski club (UK run or local), you have more chance of gaining a place the following year. Your finish time is also taken into account and the more years you take part, in theory, the higher start number you’ll get. I’m not sure it is entirely scientific, but this process means you don’t want to miss a year and be sent to the bottom of the start pile again.
Last year my brother started almost in the dark at 1750, and this year he started at 1506, so that was progress. He‘s hoping for a start number above 1000 for 2016, especially with his fast 10 min and 23 second finish time, ranking 868th overall!
This entry system means you can get some amazing skiers coming through the course towards the end of the day, which always adds to the cheers and atmosphere at the finish line.
© Robert Webb
From Mürren, a tiny village which sits on the edge of the cliffs above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, you feel like you can literally reach out and touch the mountains across from you – the huge Eiger and the flanking Monch and Jungfrau peaks. They almost feel closer from Mürren than when you are in the ski resort of Wengen, which sits below the Eiger itself.
I had a solo coffee at the top of the Schilthorn Mountain, Mürren at 2970m, from where you begin your nerve-wracking descent to the start of the Inferno course. Piz Gloria, this unique revolving restaurant (where 007’s 1969 film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was filmed) gives 360 degree views of the mountains over the Bernese Alps the Jura Mountains and beyond.
The ‘007 experience’ is as popular for non-skiers as it is for skiers and the myriad Inferno cat suits and long skis are an incredible sight on race day itself.
The Skyline Walk at Birg
This shiny new glass and metal viewing platform is not for the faint hearted. The metal grid base, and one section of glass, show the rock below you just dropping away under your feet. Once again the views are spectacular. The curly fries in the now smart Bistro Birg restaurant are well worth a purchase too. We enjoyed watching the women’s Super G from Cortina on their wide-screen TV whilst nursing the infamous Inferno hangover. It is definitely worth stopping in to have a quick look over the precipice, if you feel brave enough.
Events like the Inferno, especially with their huge participation by the local English run DHO and Kandahar Ski Clubs, attract skiers who return year after year.
This year the Kandahar Ski Club entered over 150 skiers in to the main Downhill race and one of their ‘promises’ is to support all of their racers, not just the fastest handful. I was spider walking, feeling pretty tired, up through the ‘woodcutters’ section of the ski race, a steady uphill climb, which some of the fastest skiers manage to cruise up after their fast approaching ‘schuss’. My small frame and skis only get me about 50 feet up the slope and the rest I have to climb.
‘K’ club members were there, as well as organisers and general supporters, cheering you along. One cat suit-clad guy zoomed up a bit too fast behind me involving an interesting ‘coming together’ of our bodies on the climb – to the hilarity of the cheering supporters. I was concentrating too hard to take much notice, but blushed with embarrassment as it was mentioned several times in the prize giving later that day! But without the support of the crowds, the uphill sections would be much harder. I also had local racers recognise me from last year’s race, all wishing safe trips down the course and at the finish line shouting ‘see you next year’. I’ll be back..!
Visit www.inferno-muerren.ch for course information, history and 2016 entry details.