I’m in Muerren, Switzerland, this week for the Inferno ski race. The big news this year is that the full course – from the top of the Schilthorn all the way to Lauterbrunnen (14.9km and 1,990m of vertical) – is skiable and being prepared for Saturday’s downhill.
Whether we’ll really be going all that way I’m not sure, as the forecast is for snow Friday and Saturday. In the past, when conditions at the top have been too snowy or windy, it has begun lower down.
More pressingly though, right now the langlauf (cross-country) leg of the race – entered by 470 of the 1,850 who do the downhill – is under way as I write. I have a prime viewing spot from the living room at Chalet Fontana, great-value self-catering lodgings in the centre of Muerren.
The speed and stability of the early starters is astonishing – a far cry from my own tentative style. There’s hot wine at the “bumps” – designed to make the beginners fall over – and plenty of bystanders shouting “hoya, hiya!” and ringing cowbells to spur racers on.
You’ll see from my start number – 315 of 470 – that my record in this race isn’t brilliant.
But it’s a fun challenge to do the “combined” Inferno, which also includes a giant slalom, rather than “just” the straight downhill – if only for the relief you feel when the langlauf is over.
Muerren is looking its beautiful Alpine best this week, with chalet roofs piled high with snow, pistes in wonderful condition and deep blue skies soaring over the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau summits opposite.
You can see by tracks that off-piste conditions have been good lately; however, on many south-east to south-west facing slopes – at all altitudes – there are giant, gaping cracks right down to the ground: a legacy of the 2m of snow that fell all at once within a few days on warm, snowless slopes in mid-December.
Some of the cracks have avalanched – some in harmless places, some in more threatening locations.
The snow-cats have been working hard to plough several layers of “steps” below such hazardous slab-fields, protecting pistes from the kind of wet-snow avalanches described in a recent “Ezine” I received from Henry’s Avalanche Talk.
The cracks really show the sheer quantity of snow here – as does the towering wall of snow, 3m high in places, next to the second long traverse/schuss in the downhill, in the Engetal.
Talking of schussing, it’s time for me to gear up with those flippy, lightweight planks for the most knackering part of the week – I’m due to wobble onto course at 6.15pm. Wish me luck!
P.S. 19/1/12: Here are the results so far… http://services.datasport.com/2012/winter/inferno/
P.P.S. To read about last year’s race, see blogs from January 2011 and to read my article in Country Life about the Inferno 2011 click here.
DO you enjoy this BLOG? Then SIGN UP to RECEIVE AN EMAIL each time I post a NEW ONE by clicking on ‘SIGN ME UP’ on the top right of THIS PAGE.