Thursday last week and it’s the 09:28 train from Basel to Interlaken – and it was blue sky and sunshine – for 2010 (so far) that’s a novelty . Of-course through the long tunnel in the direction of Olten and we’re back into the more typical grey and mist of January. In-and-out of Bern station, you potentially have the most gorgeous of views; the sunlit, snow-covered alps as a backdrop – but not today – the grey is too grey. But what’s that? Hints of blue above as we stop in Thun and eventually sunshine in Interlaken. Ye-haaah! (sorry, my apologies; for a moment I forgot – I don’t whoop!)
I was heading to Mürren for my annual ‘recapturing my youth weekend’ – the Inferno Rennen – oldest and longest downhill ski-race in the world. This year only 9.6km as the run from Mürren to Lauterbrunnen doesn’t have enough snow – the full distance can be 16km. Despite the fact that this year I’m sporting longer skis and a new helmet (clearly this is the differentiator!) I quickly realise that I have no chance of a medal (less than 160% of winner’s time gets a bronze medal, less than 130% gets a silver – there is only one gold…) because the top-half of the course is a mix of black and red runs on which a normal, competently skiing mortal cannot comprehend the speed of those born(e) on skis!
Still, I had some friends in the resort and the weather was gorgeous – what’s not to love? There’s a new wine on the hotel winelist too – perfect:
2006 Albert Bichot, Volnay
Medium, medium-plus colour. The nose is deep and a little dark-shaded, perhaps a little dense and unyielding too- higher, floral tones flutter above. In the mouth it is round, velvet textured, with a good, slow diminuendo of flavour. The acidity smoothly keeps everything balanced and ‘together’. Structured and serious, yet currently quite drinkable – very, very good.
Rebuy – Yes
Compared to the Dubreuil-Fontaine Volnay of a few days ago, this is a little less intense but it’s also fuller and much more open to approach.
Friday afternoon – we’ve had sun all day! – I take a friend who has never before been on the Schilthorn-run, all the way through the inferno course – the Schilthorn isn’t pisted so is definitely a black run, but he only slips once – he’s a happy and proud man at the finish – me too, well done Tim!
Saturday and up to see the kamikaze racers (those afore-mentioned people born on skis) who fly down the incredibly steep Kanonnenrohr (the gun-barrel) black-run in only two turns before 4 switch-backs and a schuss to a 270° high-speed (!) turn. The fastest time is 7:31 mins for the 9.6km distance, and that’s despite 3 uphill sections on the course – well it’s 7:31 before I have a go anyway 😉 I ‘only’ need 12 mins for a medal then, ah-well, at least I have a new helmet!
A short recce of a schuss (where I fell last year!) to see how bumpy it is, followed by a liquid lunch – tomato soup and coffee – that’s living! Then back to the hotel to get changed for the race. Changed? Well, yes. Last year I succumbed to peer pressure and acquired a ski-racing suit – everyone does it, honest! – Today I am spider-man – but for ‘technical’ reasons there are no pictures, despite my wondrous physique(!) Last year a fellow competitor called me a fat ba…… when he saw I couldn’t get my back-protector under the spider-suit (he bought one the year before!), so that was an early target in training for the 2010 race. Several weeks of back-pain and a few colds meant that there was no training (jogging) over Christmas, so I settled for reverting to the 2009 target i.e. only to be able to get into the suit! What a shocker then on race-day when I managed the ‘double’. I might still be a b……, but not a fat b……! 😉
Up the cable-car to the Schilthorn with all the ‘racers’ apparently coming from your 1970’s childhood memories – given that 2 metre-plus skis are de-rigeur! Ahead of me in the queue for the starting gate is a young Swedish guy (1472), behind me a 63 year-old ‘Swiss-Racer’ (1474) and behind him a guy that looks like he’s prepared for the Winter Olympics next month (1475) – we set-off at 15 second intervals (as did 1,900 racers that day!). The start is just like the TV – 5,4,3,2,1 – break the timing contact and then try not to fall in the first 10 metres!
Despite my child-like 184cm giant slalom skis, I ride the bumps around the first gates (the ‘piste’ is very far from pisted when 1,400 people have gone before you!) then tuck into the long schuss – wow that’s fast, and I didn’t even go for the fluorinated wax! – around the corner and into the next tuck. I blast past the Swede – that felt good! Further down I blast past another couple of ‘racers’ – no-body’s passed me yet! Down to the Kannonenrohr dispatching another slow-coach and, not bad, only four turns before I get round the turn at the bottom of the Kannonenrohr – which is the first of the 4 switchbacks – I’m getting rather confident when disaster hits on switch-back 3; related to my ‘optimistic’ entry speed and angle of approach perhaps, but who put that great hump of ice in the middle of the turn? I hit it dead-centre and it stops me equally dead. Well not exactly, it throws me into the air whilst removing a ski – I bounce hard on my nice new helmet and end up 10 metres down the (very steep) slope. Bugger! I seem not to be dead, but the lost ski is way above me and the only way to get it is to remove my remaining ski. ‘Walking’ up the slope and Mr ‘1475 Winter Olympics’ zooms past. I recover the lost ski and slide back down to the other one – then ‘how to get the buggers back on on such a steep slope?’ – First the Swede gets back in front (I suspect with a contented smile), then the 63 year-old. I eventually get the skis back on by jamming a stick below them to stop them slipping away when I try to press my foot into the bindings. Ah well, onwards. I take a conservative line for the 270° turn and then head for the finish – virtually straight. I cross the line quite happy with my time – about 16:40 – despite at least 3 minutes on my arse that’s still 1:20 faster than the last time I ‘raced’ the same course in 2008 (a video of the course in 2008) – and I didn’t fall the first time around! Even without the fall I suppose I would have taken 13 minutes – so no problem – it was fun and I’m still alive.
On Sunday, nursing a sore neck, I look at the results; ‘Mr 1475 Winter Olympics’ – 8:30 mins – no way!!! Then ‘1472 The Swede’ under 12 mins and a bronze medal and ‘Mr 1474 63 year-old Swiss-Racer’, just over 12 minutes and a bronze in his class. Shit! Switch-back 3 was about 70% of the way through the course and they were all well behind me – okay Mr Winter Olympics might have caught up most of his 30 seconds deficit, but he was still behind – I had no idea that I’d lost 5 minutes or-more with my miss-hap. Perhaps it’s time to be less self-deprecating and smoke the buggers next year – my neck’s stopped hurting now 🙂
See, I knew the helmet would make the difference!
Race Pictures here