1. There’s only one way down
Fünf…Vier…Drei…Zwei…Eins…go! There are few more nerve-wracking seconds on skis than the countdown to your turn to leap out of The Inferno starting gate. Three seconds later, a blind bend takes you flying over a lip and hurtling down into a series of high-speed S-bends. As your skis, knees and teeth clatter across the rutted, icy track a kind of salvation beckons in the form of a narrow gap that shoots you out onto a vertiginous ledge where a high-speed Schuss propels you across the side of the mountain.
2. 180-degree bends and lung-busting climbs
This long thigh-burning stretch of the race has the advantage of at least giving you time to collect your scrambled thoughts and prepare for the frankly insane rock-lined gun barrels, 180-degree bends, lung-bursting climbs and frozen forest paths that eventually catapult you into the village of Lauterbrunnen, 14.9km and 2000 vertical metres below where you started.
3. Only 12 seconds between the racers
The Inferno, the world’s longest downhill ski race, has been held in the Swiss village of Murren since 1928, and this year’s event was the 70th time it’s taken place. The decent from just below the Schilthorn, the scene of one of the best James Bond ski scenes requires stamina, nerves of steel and very occasionally sharp elbows. Competitors start at intervals of just 12 seconds and with 1,850 of them careering down the course it’s not hard to imagine that some of the racers come within whispering distance of one another.
To put the length of the course and the time it takes to run it in perspective, just imagine being able to magically travel from Canary Wharf in the east of London to Paddington Station in the west in just over 13 minutes. That’s how far and fast this race is.
The 2013 winner was Michel Kino, a 40-year-old Swiss racer who set a new record for the full-length course of 13 minutes and 20 seconds. Back in 1928 the winning time of 1 hour 12 minutes was set by Harold Mitchell, an Englishman in his tweeds and a tie. A year later another Englishman, 18-year-old Jimmy Riddle, skied down the cog railway line to complete the course in 45 minutes, only to find there were no judges at the finish line. Undeterred, he skied into the nearest bar to find them still drinking their beer.
4. Competitors come from every walk of life
So apart from the frightengly serious racers, who train all year for the event and arrive in town with their own ski men and waxing tables, who actually risks life and limb to take part in the Inferno? There are lots of different ski clubs from all over the world whose members take part, one of the most famous of these is the British Kandahar Ski Club founded by Sir Arnold Lunn in 1924.
In amongst the multicoloured cat suits – and by the way no-one calls them ‘onesies’ in this part of the world – you can find mere mortals from just about every walk of life imaginable. Olympic rowers, lawyers, brewers, RAF helicopter pilots, Hollywood actresses, captains of industry, geneticists and even the odd joiner hurtle down the course having left the trials and tribulations of everyday life far behind them in the eerily silent queue at the top of this unique race course.
5. The dramatic scenery
Murren is of course far more than just a venue for a spectacular ski race; it’s also one of the most picturesque alpine villages in the world. In addition to its own extensive ski area Murren (insert web link http://mymuerren.ch/en) is fully connected to the spectacular Jungfrau ski area that includes both Wengen and Grindelwald. Murren itself is perched in an alpine meadow atop a 600m cliff with spectacular views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks dominating the panorama from almost every corner of the town. Strolling through the tiny paths that criss-cross the stunning, car-free village it’s easy to feel that you’ve stepped back in time to some mythical Edwardian era. Winter barns and 100-year-old chalets mingle with the traditional hotels that are one of resort’s most attractive aspects. One of the nicest places to stay in Murren is Hotel Jungfrau, situated in what is possibly one of the best spots in the Alps. Cradling a large hot chocolate and rum in the Jungfrau’s sitting room, whilst you gaze across the valley to the north face of the Eiger, is a fabulous way to end a day’s skiing in this stunning mountain setting…particularly if you’ve managed to survive The Inferno.