The Inferno

Murren is a tiny village across the Lauterbrunnen valley from Wengen. Its permanent population is just a couple of hundred people, although the village seems bigger, being home to a substantial number of largely Victorian hotels.

The ski area is small too; less than half the size of Wengen. However, it does have the Schilthorn. At the summit is Piz Gloria, a mountain restaurant which was the baddies’ lair in that much under-rated James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. From Piz Gloria there runs a steep black slope which even in modern times is a challenge. It used to be more so in the days when it was impossible to get a piste basher on to the hill. The run was mogulled and rutted and daunting for almost everyone. Nowadays, they put the basher on a cable and the run has been tamed to a large extent. It is still steep though.

Every January, Murren is host to the Inferno races. The downhill is on the Saturday, normally a week after the Lauberhorn World Cup. It is an amateur race though, with a huge following. Somewhere in the order of 2,000 people enter and it take most of the day to get everyone over the start line. The casualty rate is high and by no means everyone reaches the finish.

In good years, the race runs from Piz Gloria all the way to Lauterbrunnen, almost 15 kilometres away. The vertical drop is over 2,000 metres. At a normal pace, it takes about 45 minutes to ski; the winner of the race will finish in the region of fourteen minutes. It wasn’t invented by Dante, but it might as well have been.

Saturday dawned grey and unwelcoming, with some snow falling. The race had already been shortened through avalanche risk, but had been reduced again on Friday night. The winning time would be under four minutes.

Across the valley in Wengen, the Saturday crowds stayed away and though it was never a pleasant day, the skiing on new snow was good and I managed 10,180 vertical metres in 22 lift rides.

In the pub later with Mrs IS, it seemed the Wengen entrants to the Inferno had made it down safely. Not all were back in Wengen though; Murren too knows how to throw a party.

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