Tag Archives: Inferno

29/2/12 – I hope Pippa Middleton’s ski poles are the right length

Camilla Janssen warms up for the Inferno 6km langlauf race - Pippa's race will be 15 times longer

Guess what? I have something in common with Pippa Middleton (who, funnily enough, has been mentioned briefly in this blog before – ‘Peeeepah’, the hot topic in the Bernese Oberland). She and I have been preparing for a very long cross-country race – separately, I must add.

Hers? The Vasaloppet in Sweden. Participants – 15,800; distance – 90km; date – Sunday, 4 March; first running – 1922. Recently she was photographed training in Gstaad.

Mine? The Engadine Marathon in Switzerland. Participants – about 12,000; distance – 42km; date – Sunday, 11 March; first running – 1969. There’s no photographic evidence, but I promise I did some training (well, an enjoyable hour, in half a foot of powder) during a recent trip to Aspen.

So the race Pippa is doing (along with her brother, James) is considerably longer, older and larger than mine. It’s also less well known – but not for much longer, and it makes me smile to hear how excited the organisers sound about their royally connected arrivals.

I advise Pippa and James against see-through outfits such as this one

“It is now confirmed. We have been contacted by a person close to them who has asked us if we could arrange this,” Per Strid, information manager for Vasaloppet, said. “It’s really fantastic that such well known people will take part; it shows that our arrangements attract not only the most renowned skiers in the world but some of the most famous personalities in the world as well!” [Their exclamation mark, not mine – full article here.]

To me, from the pictures in Blick, it looks as though Pippa is practising skating-style in Gstaad. But I don’t think she can be, because from the Vasaloppet website, it looks as though it’s compulsory to do the race classic-style.

I’m no expert (I do a meagre 6km cross-country race whenever I go to the Inferno and that’s about it – and I never get much faster), but I hope her poles are long enough – I was advised in Aspen that they’re meant to come up to somewhere between your chin and nose and I think hers (on the right of picture 4 in Blick) only reach her shoulder.

I’ll let you into a secret, though. I’ve had to bottle out. While exercising not-very-furiously 10 days ago, I tripped over a grassy tussock and crashed onto my shoulder. There’s no break, but just enough damage that I won’t be propelling myself across frozen lakes and wooded valleys after all. I’m still going along, mind you, to cheer on my energetic boyfriend and see what I’m missing.

Meanwhile I’ll be thinking of Pippa and James this Sunday – and hoping they are super-extra-mega-fit. Langlaufing feels great once you get into a rhythm, but 90km is a ludicrously long way and I’ll be seriously impressed if they cross the finish line.

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Filed under Racing, Switzerland

18/1/12 – Inferno 2012: the skating has started

This is the latest Inferno info: the last time it went 'all the way' was 2006

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.

The langlauf is under way. By the time I do it, it'll be dark

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.

My practice last night: not the most dynamic look

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.

View from the Gimmeln yesterday morning

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.

This crack under the Kandahar lift turned into a wet snow avalanche

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.

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Filed under Off-piste, Racing, Switzerland

31/10/11 – Here’s something that could get annoying on the slopes

Yesterday, en route back from the Alps, approaching Dover on Seafrance, I saw something that made me go, “Gggrrrrr!”

On deck, as the white cliffs loomed closer, a family was enjoying the view. The mother was pointing to the horizon behind the vessel, right to left, saying, “It goes Holland, Germany, Denmark,” – she paused, and gesticulated further north-west, “then Norway is over there.” She had clearly paid attention in Geography and her young children were satisfied with the correct explanation of what lay where. Her husband, though, looked doubtful.

Out came the iPhone, and he began squinting at it through his spectacles and fiddling with it, calling up an appropriate app to prove his wife – who looked rather Norwegian or Danish herself – wrong. Ten minutes later, their children bored with his gadget-gazing and his wife increasingly irritated, he was still peering at the wretched thing and muttering that he was going to find out. By the time they filed down to the car deck, his wife was fuming.

Is there an app that would make sense of this? Photo by Nick Lowe

Oh no, I thought, this sort of thing has probably been happening on the slopes. Resorts and organisations have been falling over themselves to produce clever apps to track speed and altitude, check snow reports and see where you are on the lift map, but have they thought properly about how maddening these things will be for people like this sensible woman on the ferry?

I’ve had just one brush with an app on the slopes. A Swiss friend told me about one called Ski Tracks (here’s a useful discussion about it http://tinyurl.com/5wqyncs), which tells you things like maximum speed and gradient, and I decided to try it out in the Inferno (http://tinyurl.com/3m5xjxs).

I borrowed an iPhone, turned on the app and wedged it down the front of my catsuit – then couldn’t resist getting it out to take a photo near the start. As my turn approached I struggled to re-find the app, then couldn’t work out if it was still running. Off I went, and at the finish, the gadget revealed that my top speed had been 509kph.

No doubt a user error. Still, I can’t help thinking it’ll be a shame if, every time people stop for a breather, they whip out the gadget – possibly also taking time to check texts and emails as well as route and location.

At least technophobes can take comfort in the possibility that multiple blasts of winter air might drain the batteries and allow everyone a few carefree hours of exploring by using a few pairs of eyes and that nifty pocket-filler, the traditional fluttering paper map…

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Filed under Canada, Gear, Racing, Ski touring, Transport

17/8/11 – Inferno 2012: two weeks to entry deadline

The hog's back hairpin at the Inferno in Muerren

It’s that time of year again – time to decide whether to race the Inferno (see http://tinyurl.com/3m5xjxs and earlier posts). The deadline for entries to the Swiss race organisers is mid-September, but if, like most Brits who take part, you’re entering through the Kandahar Ski Club, you need to get paid up by 31 August. The race is 18-21 January 2012.

Through the Kandahar it costs £52 to do the downhill – which can be anything between a couple and 15km long, depending on snow cover – and £67 to do the combination – comprising the downhill, a 6km cross-country and a giant slalom.

If you’re not a Kandahar member and want to join you need to befriend one or two in order to be proposed and seconded to join the club, which costs £40 a year (or £20 if over 70 or under 21).

My sister (right), Teresa, and I after our 2011 runs

When I last looked, 41 K members had signed up to this year’s Inferno – that number should more than double by the end of the month and in January the Brits are usually the third most numerous nationality after the Swiss and Germans.

Other British teams last year went by the name of Hotel Jungfrau (Muerren – which is run by a brilliant Scotsman and his wife), Hardres Ski Touring Club, Downhill Only (the Kandahar’s longstanding Wengen ‘rival’), Ealing Eagles, the Horseshit Balls, Auriol Kensington Ski Club, Pegasus, the Monty Ski Club, the Ski Club of Great Britain, the Jaegermeisters and Euro Snowholers.

A bona fide cultural organisation, or just some eccentric Brits?

I was told once that this last lot, the Euro Snowholers, somehow obtained a European Union grant for their cultural cause – which was having a blast during Inferno week, not necessarily based in a real snowhole.

I am still dithering about whether to go for it again this year (it would be Inferno number six for me). For any regular or semi-regular it’s important to go often enough to keep the advantage of a low start number.

A few minutes before my first Inferno in 2004 - check out the high start number. Racers set off all day, every 12 seconds

First-timers usually have a start number of around 1600-1800, and this gets gradually better each time you do it, especially if you do well. Last year I was in the 400s. I understand that if you miss more than two (or maybe three) in a row you start again from scratch, somewhere near 1700.

Anyway, for anybody thinking of taking part, I recommend the whole thing 100 per cent. If you can, get fit, go for the whole week and take part in the cross-country, giant slalom and downhill, plus the Kandahar club races and training from Monday to Wednesday.

To read more – and to find out which British celebrity was there with us last year – have a look at this article of mine in Country Life this February http://tinyurl.com/3shxoar.

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Racing, Switzerland

23/4/11 – It’s official: there’s a crazier race than the Inferno

The first of three mass starts in the Weisse Rausch

I didn’t think there was an amateur ski race tougher or scarier than the Inferno (see previous posts), but I’m pleased (well, sort of) to report that I’ve competed in one today. St Anton’s Weisse Rausch, an end-of-season downhill staged on an end-of-day slush-field from the top of the Valluga to the town, has superseded Muerren’s January downhill for extremeness, exhaustion and exhilaration.

The second group, with the Valluga station above

It begins with a mass start – or rather three mass starts. First to set off, at 5pm, are the men born in 1973 or later, plus some leading contenders who, through good past results, have earned a place in the first batch. Ten minutes later the older men set off. This covers about 500 of the 650 competitors. Then it’s the turn of the women, snowboarders, big-footers, bladers, telemarkers and ski-bobbers (remember the snow bikes?).

I’m going to write about this race for a UK ski magazine next season – more details later – but for now I can reveal the following…

Paul Schwarzacher after his ninth win - Paul trains the Austrian slalom team

Racers are all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities; momentous music accompanies the countdown to each of the starts while a helicopter circles overhead. After the carnage of each start – which is signalled by cannon fire – there is a three- or four- or maybe five-minute hill climb less than a minute into the race. Most racers take their skis off and carry them up, although the winner skated up, using 170cm cross-country poles. Because the slope isn’t prepared after the day’s skiing, the course is a mad mess, covered in moguls and ruts. Approaching the finish you take your skis off again and carry them to the line – in knee-deep slush. And we thought we were there to have fun… (Amazingly, most people – including me – were grinning rather than grimacing as they collapsed in a heap at the finish.)

Very sadly, one racer, a 48-year-old man, had a heart attack during the race, about half way down, and could not be saved. So the mood at the prize-giving was sombre, and the official race party was cancelled as a mark of respect. At least the poor chap died doing something extremely exciting, and let’s hope his last thoughts were happy ones.

I won my age group (30-40) with a time of 15min. the winner took eight; the slowest more than an hour

Among the most entertaining prize-winners was a snowboarder who won his age group – as the only person in it – despite being easily the slowest finisher. This chap took an almighty one hour and two minutes: the winner, Paul Schwarzacher, took around eight minutes. Dozens of people won prizes, thanks to a generous number of categories – and as you can see from the picture even I managed to take home something for the mantlepiece, as I somehow won my age group.

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Filed under Austria, Racing

9/2/11 – The Inferno ski race in Country Life

Here’s a link to a pdf file of my article about the Inferno ski race (see previous posts) in Muerren, Switzerland, which took place last month. It appeared today in Country Life magazine. Steve and Ann Redgrave, first-timers at the Inferno, are pictured in the article.

Going through Hell on Heavenly snow, copyright Country Life, IPC magazines

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Racing, Switzerland

20/1/11 – Inferno 2011: ruts and the Riggli

Chilly and snowy, today, for the Inferno giant slalom on the Kandahar lift. Teresa and I inspected the course twice, nudging each other at the amusing sight of contenders memorising its twists and turns through visualisation, pretending their gloved hands were pairs of skis. The course-setters appeared to have gone to great lengths to set crucial turns on adverse camber, and had made full use of the hill’s undulations – in particular a mean compression two-thirds of the way down.

After a hot chocolate in the basic and racer-packed Schilthorn Huette – miles from the peak itself, incidentally – we watched early racers fly down. After seeing Teresa skate out of the start gate at number 169 I made a final visit to the tropically heated loo at the top of the lift, mainly to warm up. A loo is a rare luxury at race starts.

A Kandahar racer tackles the Inferno giant slalom

Into the start gate in a 1980s slalom jumper, navy stretch salopettes and bib number 216 – looking the part makes you go faster, I think – and I was off. The light was fading – but this was in my favour as officials had scattered grainy stuff to mark the route, as well as the usual blue spray. Apart from a bone-shaking two-foot-deep rut a few gates in, my run was smooth and exhilarating.

Two cups of post-finish-line ‘Kraftbruhe’-style soup later and we were off to eat our picnic on the Riggli chairlift and hit the accessible and little-skied powder between the paths that criss-cross its slopes. We’re lucky that a tiny block of snow-laden cloud has settled over this corner of the Bernese Oberland: slopes just a few summits away have had zero snowfall, and as usual in Muerren – even during Inferno week – we have the soft stuff virtually to ourselves.

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Filed under Off-piste, Racing, Switzerland