16/1/11 – The Inferno ski race approaches

For the fifth time I’m racing in the Inferno this year. This is an amateur downhill in Muerren, Switzerland, that was started by British ski pioneers generations ago and now attracts a majority Swiss contingent plus around 200 Brits and an array of Germans, Austrians and other nationalities. In all, 1,850 skiers take part, setting off every 12 seconds on a course that can be as long as 15km if there’s enough snow. The full course runs from the slopes of the Schilthorn to the valley village of Lauterbrunnen, taking in sweeping schussy sections, an icy gun-barrel, an uphill push and a hairy wooded path with some fearsome hairpins.

Someone is still up in our favourite local, the Staegerstuebli

As teenagers my sister, Teresa, and I were junior race trainees with the Kandahar Ski Club, and we’re returning as part of the 100-plus-strong, British-dominated Kandahar team, along with two more friends, Emma and Kirstin. Muerren is a charming car-free village in the Bernese Oberland that sits on a ledge with a sensational view of the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau peaks.

So here we are, staying in the lovely and central Chalet Fontana (50 Swiss francs a night each), opposite our favourite local, the Staegerstuebli, as well as a great sports shop belonging to Eddy Abegglen, also our chalet owner. We’ve reserved race skis for Saturday – 2m as opposed to the 2m10-plus downhill planks favoured by some – and tracked down cross-country skis for Wednesday’s langlauf race.

Around 400 people take part in the Inferno combination rather than the straight downhill: this involves a 6km langlauf, a giant slalom the following day, plus Saturday’s downhill. For me, the langlauf is the most dreaded part of the week – three circuits of the hilly village on flippy planks, in near-darkness. Teresa and I usually put ourselves through it for some reason – I’ll see if I can remember why tomorrow…

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