Tuesday 22nd January
With the first part of the combination to compete in the following day and a lifetime total of zero metres covered on cross country skis, my afternoon was spent attempting to master one of what has to be one of the harder winter sports to pick up.
Armed with what felt like incredibly flimsy skis, barely an inch wide and with no edges, I felt pretty out of my depth. This was confirmed on my first few attempts at skating on the flat path around the village and more so on the groomed trail above the village in the Blumental. That part of the race would not be a fun one.
Wednesday 23rd January – Cross Country Race Day
The cross country wasn’t until the evening so the morning was spent skiing the downhill course, especially the final section down to Lauterbrunnen. Knowing the hairpins and chicanes would be crucial, as all become increasingly rutted throughout the race.
As the sun dipped behind the mountains, the action got underway in the cross country race. The three loops of the village take in a steep ascent, a fast, wiggly descent and the worst obstacle of all – a series of manmade rollers located in front of a sizeable crowd. Falling here would not only be painful but also somewhat embarrassing...
After watching the eventual winner Oliver Zurbrügg fly around the three laps in 10 minutes and 48 seconds I made it to the start gate to complete what would turn out to be an exhausting nineteen and a half minutes – putting his incredible time into perspective.
The first lap was a bit of a blur as I tried to stay on my feet – I almost succeeded in entertaining the crowd next to the rollers – and the second wasn’t much better. By the third lap, however, I felt I had finally “cracked it” and was moving well along the flat section, even clearing the rollers with relative ease. This was until the last big climb, which can only be described as savage. Fortunately, at the top, the finish was in sight and I crossed the line exhausted but also extremely satisfied having never set foot on cross country skis twenty-four hours earlier.
Thursday 24th January – Giant Slalom Day
With heavy legs and incredibly sore arms, the next morning I headed over to Winteregg for the second element of the combination race – the giant slalom.
This was more familiar territory having raced at university, but with a start number of 324, I knew the ruts would be huge, despite the fantastic snow conditions and sunny skies.
The ruts did prove to be massive, but the course was great and I was happy with my time, despite the winner flying down eighteen seconds faster than me. Two of the three elements were complete. Only the main attraction – the downhill – remained.
Friday 25th January
The day before is the last chance to see the course and I was up early to ski the entire route from the Kleines Schilthorn at 2790m down to Lauterbrunnen, almost 2000 vertical metres below in the valley. Reassuringly the piste was in incredibly good condition, aided by the cold weather but also the small army of volunteers responsible for maintaining the racetrack – even the hairpins down to Lauterbrunnen were in good shape.
It was also a chance to get used to the skis I’d be using for the race, a 206cm pair of World Cup Super-G skis. Their turn radius of 45m (my regular skis have a 15m radius) really took some getting used to, but their stability at high speed and edge hold on fast turns made them ideal for the Inferno.
That evening and after dropping my skis off for a final wax and edge grind, I joined the annual pre-race parade around the village. This marks the start of the race weekend and culminates in the burning of the Inferno Devil in front of a large crowd of racers next to the village’s ice rink.