What It’s Like To Compete In The Inferno, The World’s Most Treacherous Ski Race

The strenuous race is just as strange as it is fun. It also requires more than staying upright as one journalist discovers for Robb Report.

By Gabriella Le Breton 28/11/2022

High overhead, snow-capped mountains gleamed in the moonlight while a thousand people, their breath steaming in the frigid night, bayed for the blood of a giant effigy of the devil, about to go up in flames on a burning pyre. The soundtrack was base-thudding AC/DC, blaring through loudspeakers—and accompanied by a cacophony of large cow bells rung by Swiss men in lederhosen. It was the most peculiar opening ceremony for a sporting event I’d ever encountered. But then, this was the Inferno, the world’s most bonkers ski race.

Over the years, I had heard tales of gruesome injuries sustained on the infamous course above the chocolate-box-perfect Alpine village of Mürren, in the heart of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland mountains. I had signed a waiver to confirm that the risk of serious injury or death “cannot be excluded” while taking part in the descent down Mount Schilthorn. Joining some 1,500 amateur competitors, including the occasional Olympian, I knew that my first Inferno would prove to be a more than averagely challenging day on the slopes, to put it mildly. By the time everyone would make it to the finish—or be carried off the mountain—the casualty tally would be considered a pretty good one, with only four shoulder fractures, two broken knees, some cracked ribs and a head injury that required an air ambulance to the nearest hospital.

The winner of the first Inferno clocked a time of one hour and 12 minutes. Today’s top entrants make it down in about 13 minutes.
Gaetan Bally/Keystone

It’s justified to question what, precisely, is the draw? Above all, the Inferno is a race of superlatives: It’s the world’s oldest, longest, largest and probably toughest downhill ski event. Organisers trace its origins to January 29, 1928, when Sir Arnold Lunn, the granddaddy of competitive downhill skiing, joined 16 other British skiers, including four women, in the very first Inferno Cup. Donning their tweeds, the intrepid crew strapped skins onto the undersides of their enormous hickory-wood skis, enabling them to slide forward on snow but not backward, then laboured over 1,219 vertical metres from the picturesque village of Mürren to the peak of the Schilthorn before setting off in unison to hurtle 13 kms back down the mountain through thick, untracked snow, trees and shrubs. (In that era, the pristinely manicured runs to which modern-day recreational skiers have grown accustomed were virtually nonexistent; all skiing was on natural terrain.) The race’s winner made it to the bottom in one hour and 12 minutes.

The writer and cartoonist Alan d’Egville painted a vivid picture of that inaugural race for the Ski Club of Great Britain’s 1928 British Ski Year Book: “The name Inferno comes from the torments endured by competitors on the most gruelling course ever set for a downhill race.”

The Inferno Cup was organised by (and mostly for) members of Britain’s Kandahar Ski Club—also founded by Lunn—until 1936, when the Mürren Ski School and Tourist Office took on the mantle. Run ever since with less British gung ho–ism and more Swiss organisation, the Inferno has been held in the resort most winters since its inception, with the odd cancellation due to events such as World War II, when competitors were busy fighting each other on the battlefields rather than on the pistes.

Skiers at the 1930 edition of the Inferno.
Gaetan Bally/Keystone

While today’s contestants race in catsuits instead of baggy plus fours and have the luxury of reaching the start line by way of cable car, the torments they face remain challenging in the extreme. Snow cover permitting, the race starts from just below the 2,969-metre Schilthorn summit and finishes in the valley in Lauterbrunnen, at 800 metres, a vertical drop—“vert,” in ski parlance—of over 1981 metres that covers more than 14 kms of piste. For comparison, that’s the same length as the longest ski trail in North America, the Last Spike at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, in British Columbia, which also delivers the continent’s most vert: a relatively paltry 1713 metres.

Competitors are seeded by previous race times and released at 12-second intervals. The rookies typically trail at the back of the pack, left to enjoy a maiden outing on what is by then a harrowingly rutted and chopped-up course. Whereas the top skiers finish in just over 13 minutes, reaching speeds of up to 130 km/h, mere mortals require somewhere in the 16-minute range.

They are thigh-busting, lung-burning minutes. A short, sharp start from the Schilthorn leads into a long tuck; then a drawn-out S curve is followed by the hair-raisingly steep and icy Kanonenrohr (“gun barrel”); a series of hairpins fly straight into a sharp right curve; and a steep climb through woodland precedes a bumpy, twisting forest trail to the finish line.

My inaugural Inferno race day dawned bright and crisp—perfect conditions—and, as a journalist, I was fortunate enough to have bagged an early starting bib. Other than losing my goggles on the cable-car ride up to the start line, I had zero excuses for racing poorly—particularly after a charming Swiss chap loaned me his goggles for the race.

As I shivered in the freezing-morning cold, surrounded by powerful Germanic types encased in Lycra and lunging aggressively at the snow, I listened to the conflicting advice of Inferno veterans. “You have to take chances to finish well!” “Go fast or go home!” “Reach the first path without falling over.” When I spotted the bottle of schnapps being proffered to racers as they stepped into the starting tent, that last tip, bestowed upon a friend of mine by Mürren local and four-time Inferno winner Kurt Huggler, won out. (It’s always important to consider the source: In addition to being a onetime World Cup skier, Huggler is largely responsible for building the Inferno’s following from a few dozen intrepid annual entrants to more than a thousand in the 1970s. He’s also credited with hatching the idea to torch that effigy of Satan.) Thanks to Huggler (and the schnapps?), I completed my Inferno without crashing—and without going terribly fast.

An effigy of the devil burns at the Inferno’s opening ceremony.
Bruno Petroni

That might be the universal truth of the Inferno: Your sole regret is not pushing yourself harder, and you compulsively relive each moment when you could have—should have—gone faster. It becomes an itch that can’t be scratched… except by competing in another Inferno. Take Franz Sonderegger, a Mürren man in his 80s who is said to have skied the annual race 54 times. When he entered his first Inferno in 1956, there still wasn’t a cable car to the Schilthorn—like those early Inferno pioneers, he had to strap skins onto his skis and trek up the mountain. He credits piste-side spectators, on hand to administer a bracing schnapps, with helping him scrape through his more spectacular falls. Or consider the countless skiers who boast Diamond Devils, coveted badges depicting the fallen angel with real diamonds for eyes, awarded in recognition of having completed 12 Infernos. Or Peter Lunn, Sir Arnold’s son, who led the British ski team in the 1936 Winter Olympics before becoming an important spy- master during the Cold War—he raced his last Inferno at the age of 90 and apparently believed that remaining upright on the slopes on any given day meant he hadn’t tried hard enough.

Despite—or, more likely, because of—the Inferno’s risks, perhaps the only thing harder than the race may be gaining access to it. Entrance is available via public ballot to “strong skiers” over 18 years of age, but race bibs are capped at 1,850, with applications most years exceeding 2,000. Priority goes to those who have raced before, making it particularly tricky for rookies to break in.

Which brings us back to the Kandahar Ski Club, founded by Sir Arnold in Mürren in 1924 to bolster the new sport of Alpine skiing. Given its history with the Inferno, the club snags around 200 bibs each year, making membership a solid bet for reaching the start line. But becoming a member (a “K,” to those in the know, of which there are currently around 1,400) means being thick as thieves with at least two existing Ks: one to propose your name and another to second your nomination.

Those who succeed in being welcomed into its tweedy embrace find themselves swept up by the other members’ infectious love of skiing, mountains and fun. Receiving the nod was how I gained entry to the Mürren event, and I learned that for members, the Inferno is more than a quarter-hour race: I joined many in decamping to the village’s cozy Hotel Eiger for a full week of Inferno shenanigans. We warmed up for the big event with informal ski-race training and sled races, as well as boozy lunches at the Suppenalp mountain hut and Jägerbomb-infused evenings in the hotel’s wood-paneled Tächi Bar.

Revelers party after the race
Tomas Wüthrich/13 Photo

 

Spurred on by my fellow members’ enthusiasm, I had joined the 500 skiers permitted to tackle the Inferno Super-Combination—a triple whammy that adds a nighttime cross-country contest around the village and a giant-slalom race on top of the Inferno. While I can’t recommend making your cross-country debut a highly competitive, technically challenging course that cinches around gingerbread-cute chalets in the pitch dark and subzero temperatures—and I still wince remembering my gawky attempts to tame those impossibly long and skinny skis—there’s a certain camaraderie that emerges from the mutual ordeal. It’s this solidarity, combined with the visceral excitement of taking part in an extraordinary and historic race, that makes the Inferno so special.

“I love the race, as it is about the only chance to have a really fast ski down a fantastic piste with no one in front, meaning I can go as fast as I like,” says James Palmer-Tomkinson, a self-described relative newcomer to the Kandahar Ski Club (he joined in 2009) but a member of British skiing aristocracy, with four ski champions in his family: his grandfather, father and two uncles. “The camaraderie with the other Ks is very special also.”

An exhausted skier at the finish line
Tomas Wüthrich/13 Photo

There’s no denying that everybody in Mürren takes the Inferno extremely seriously, but there’s more to it than winning or achieving a new personal best. The shared thrill, a connection that transcends languages and cultures, has brought skiers together here for nearly a century. The 78th Inferno, held on January 22, 2022, proved to be particularly celebratory for members of the Kandahar Club. On that same date, one century and a day after Sir Arnold Lunn spearheaded the world’s first slalom race, member Dave Ryding slalomed his way to World Cup victory in Kitzbühel, Austria, becoming the first Briton ever to take gold in an Alpine ski event.

The only celebration likely to beat that particular Inferno after-party will take place in Mürren in January 2024, when the 80th Inferno will coincide with the centenary of the Kandahar Club, setting the scene for a serious shindig. I have little doubt that the Ks will do Sir Arnold proud in his spiritual Alpine home.

The World’s Craziest Ski Races

If the Inferno has inspired you to put your carving, schussing and slaloming to the test, here are some of the wildest amateur events out there.

Der Weisse Ring

January 21 | Lech Zürs, Austria

Christoph Schoech Photography Gm

Der Weisse Ring (the White Ring), aka Das Speed Race, is a 22-km-long circuit around the resorts of Lech and Zürs in Austria’s Arlberg ski area. Open to 1,000 mostly amateur racers, the route covers some 5,486 metres of vertical descent, with five lifts, a short, sharp ascent and five downhill sections, including the ungroomed Madloch itinerary. It takes competitors anywhere between 44 minutes and two hours to complete the course, with clutches of 20 skiers released at the starting line every 100 seconds to achieve a degree of race decorum—although brace yourself for seriously competitive chairlift queuing.

Der Weisses Rausch

April 22 | St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria

St. Anton’s Weisses Rausch (White Thrill) opens to 555 hardcore competitors each April. Wearing an array of catsuits and “fancy dress” (as the British call flamboyantly festive attire) from ’80s retro get-ups to ballgowns, participants line up on the precipitous ridge of the off-piste Valluga route at 5 pm. Inspired by a scene in the seminal 1930s ski film Der Weisse Rausch, in which two people are chased down a mountain by a huge crowd of skiers, the race typically transforms the Valluga into a tangled mess of skiers, snowboarders, monoskiers and telemarkers. If you survive Valluga, you’re rewarded with a hike up “Pain Mountain,” followed by a crazed descent into St. Anton. Covering 9 kms of mostly ungroomed trails and a total of 1,350 vertical metres of descent, the event typically takes contestants around 15 minutes to complete—if they complete it at all.

Le Derby de la Meije

March 31 | La Grave, France

Courtesy of Le Derby de la Meije

The rugged French town of La Grave is the stuff of freeriding legend: a unique resort that boasts just one gondola and one groomed slope—and some of the most notorious off-piste skiing in the Alps. True to the area’s reputation, a top-to-bottom race on La Meije, the imposing glacial peak that looms above La Grave, is for neither the novice nor the faint-hearted. Celebrating its 33rd birthday this year, Le Derby de la Meije has developed into a three-day celebration of freeriding and music, where “fancy dress” on the slopes is optional but popular. The race itself is open to 800 competitors, who can compete as individuals or as part of three-person teams, riding on skis (Alpine, telemark, snowblades or monoski), snowboards or “all other types of sliding device.” Every team must include at least one female, with each member riding a different mode of snow transport.

The Power of Four Ski-Mountaineering Challenge

Aspen, Colo. | February 25

Jared Harrell

Prefer going uphill to down? Here’s an opportunity to spend over 10 hours climbing more than 3,048 vertical metres as fast as you can—on skis. The arduous event attracts some 200 lunatics, sorry, competitors each year to Aspen’s Rocky Mountains, thanks to the growing popularity of ski mountaineering—aka skimo—in which participants attach synthetic climbing skins to their skis to negotiate the ascent. Starting at dawn at the base of Snowmass Mountain, racers shimmy up and down Buttermilk Mountain before tackling the nearly 1219-metre climb to summit the Highland Bowl. Competitors next set their sights on the peak of Aspen Mountain, eventually descending into Aspen to a rapturous welcome.

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Watch This Space: Justin Hast

Meet the game-changing horological influencers blazing a trail across social media—and doing things their own way.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

In the thriving world of luxury watches, few people own a space that offers unfiltered digital amplification. And that’s precisely what makes the likes of Brynn Wallner, Teddy Baldassarre, Mike Nouveau and Justin Hast so compelling.

These thought-provoking digital crusaders are now paving the way for the story of watches to be told, and shown, in a new light. Speaking to thousands of followers on the daily—mainly via TikTok, Instagram and YouTube—these progressive commentators represent the new guard of watch pundits. They’re actively swaying the opinions, and the dollars, of the up-and-coming generations who represent the new target consumer of this booming sector.

JUSTIN HAST

@justinhast

Credit Oracle Time

There’s something comforting about Justin Hast’s watch commentary. It could be his broad English accent; a soothing melodic chime that hits all the right notes. But rather, it’s probably his insatiable thirst for all the little things in and around watches. It jumps right off the page with anything he’s ever written, and it’s infectious if you tune into his Instagram reels, where he speaks to over 50,000 followers almost daily.

Above all, he simplifies what, for the everyday enthusiast, can sometimes be a dry, jargon-heavy topic.

“I never really trained as a writer, photographer or producer of any kind,” says Hast. “It was very much, get stuck in and see what sticks. It’s not lost on me what a privilege it is to have access to these brands, these watches, and to the shows and events. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning every Monday.”

After spending a decade researching watches, enduring the drudgery of his office job, Hast’s big break came when he met Frank Geelen, owner and CEO of the influential Monochrome Watches website, at a Bell & Ross boutique opening in London.

“I can’t remember how much Frank drank that night when he agreed to allow me to write a story for him,” he quips. “That was the starting point that allowed me to pick up a camera and explore the watch world.”

From that chance encounter, Hast has gone on to contribute influential words to the likes of Hodinkee, Mr Porter, Revolution Watch and Forbes. He is the author of The Watch Annual, which was created for watch enthusiasts in 2020 as a means of cataloguing the best timepieces of the year.

 

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A post shared by Justin Hast (@justinhast)

Listening to Hast, it’s fair to say that he lives and breathes watches, and it’s been this way for a large chunk of his life. He recalls two formative moments: the first, age 10, when he received his first red G-Shock watch from a schoolfriend; the second came with the passing down of his grandfather’s Omega Constellation Day-Date —a watch designed by Gérald Genta.

That experience goes a long way to explaining Hast’s affinity with vintage dress watches. Unsurprisingly, then, his top four picks from the recent Watches & Wonders fair in Geneva are all vintage-inspired pieces designed for the modern watch consumer: the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon, the IWC Portugieser Eternal Calendar, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 39 mm in rose gold, and the Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon.

Hast’s motto for life is “win the day”, one that he lives by as he continues on his journey to “inspire the next generation of watch enthusiasts”. And it’s clearly a mission already accomplished.

Read more about the watch industry’s horological influencers Bryan Wallner and Teddy Baldassarre.

 

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Watches & Wonders 2024 Showcase: TAG Heuer

This year at Watches & Wonders TAG Heuer continued on its path towards high-watchmaking status.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

There was a moment last year when TAG Heuer surprised the watch world (and naysayers of the brand)—you couldn’t have missed it. At Only Watch, the biennial charity auction of luxury one-off timepieces, TAG Heuer dropped the proverbial mic with its release of a unique Monaco Split-Seconds chronograph; a piece completely left of field for the otherwise mid-entry level luxury watchmaker.

It was then inconceivable to arrive at the Palexpo in Geneva, day one of Watches & Wonders, to find the very same Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph as TAG Heuer’s hero release of 2024. Don’t mistake TAG Heuer’s intentions; this is a big moment for the brand, particularly as it endeavours to reach cult high-watchmaker status.

 

TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph

 

This new $200,000 Monaco, which is aptly released in its 55th anniversary year, is an absolute workhorse of a timepiece. Retaining all the hallmarks of its legendary racing history, the new Monaco features an open-worked aesthetic that completely draws the eye to its intricate design details and mechanics. This is, folks, the first mechanical split-seconds (or ‘Rattrapante’) chronograph that the brand has made, essentially allowing the wearer to measure two separate events that start simultaneously but have different durations.

Of course, powering such a watch is no small feat; TAG Heuer has called upon the expertise of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier—a specialist manufacturer of high-end mechanical movements—to help craft the new TH81-00 caliber.

Available in two colour ways, red or blue, the watch also features a grade-5 titanium case (allowing for its lightness), a sapphire dial, and a neat 41 mm package that makes this a truely “wearable” timepiece—if the price tag doesn’t deter you.

If this is an indication of things to come for TAG Heuer, we’re all in.

tagheuer.com

Read more about this year’s Watches & Wonders exhibits from Rolex and JLC.

 

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Property of The Week: Swing Into Seclusion in Otago

Looking for the perfect marriage of seclusion and sophistication? This home’s proximity to world-class skiing and wine region makes it an irresistible asset.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 12/07/2024

Located in the charming hamlet of Arrowtown this six-bedroom country home offers plenty of room to breathe. With its proximity to pristine ski fields and world-class wine regions, the two-acre estate will appeal to active city-slickers seeking a sustainable tree change.

Just a putt away from the social life of the renowned Hills Golf Club, 214 McDonnell has private access to a world of laidback leisure.

Manicured gardens and luxurious minimal interiors makes 475 sqm of house feel even more expansive and cinematic. Adding to the dream is the property’s sunny north-facing position. Each of the main rooms has breathtaking views up to Mt Soho and Coronet Peak, then across to the stunning Crown Range. 

A grand entertaining terrace centres on a log burning fire with a layout that encourages indoor/outdoor dining.

Residents will never be lonely. They can expect to welcome children home for the ski season each winter, and to welcome friends to Otago’s excellent wine regions in summer.

The home’s interior has been kept minimal and maps perfectly to the awe-inspiring location. Modern integrated technology, heating and convenient fixtures deliver a fresh take on country style. Open-plan living invites easy contemplation of the mountain views, while interstitial spaces help to keep life uncomplicated.

The opulent master bedroom, with ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, enjoys a chilled L-shaped layout with commanding views of snow-capped mountains beyond the window frames. The master’s inviting nook not only caters to owners who are fans of 5-star hotels, but also situates the love nest in a sun trap perfect for reading.  

The three extra guest bedrooms and two bathrooms are meticulously presented; the fixtures and fittings recede from view with materials that meld flawlessly with the nature-first vibe.

The piece de résistance is the stand-alone guesthouse, featuring its own private entrance and terrace. Here the interior mimics the main home, with pleasant open-plan living, separate dining, kitchen and bathroom. And it boasts its own private, outdoor zone. 

The village itself is equally inviting. With a tree-lined main street featuring heritage row cottages and a good selection of restaurants, shops and cafés—you’ll never want for attraction beyond the front door. 

With the Alpine tourist hot spot of Queenstown just 20 minutes away by car, you can be at the airport in under half an hour: Either taking off on your next adventure, or collecting treasured guests to deliver back to your private estate.

Learn more from Sarena Glass at Sotheby’s New Zealand. Email: sarena.glass@nzsir.com

 

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Why BMW’s First Electric Cars Are Future Classics

Many things still feel contemporary about the BMW i3 and i8.

By Raphael Orlove 11/07/2024

In 2008, BMW committed to a multi-billion euro plot. It would retool its Leipzig plant to assemble two of the most environmentally-conscious cars ever designed, with carbon fibre passenger cells holding electric, plug-in hybrid, and gas-powered range extender drivetrains. Not until 2013 did they begin production. You could say they were a decade ahead of their time, but we’re still not ready for cars as daring as the i3 and i8.

Years before cries that EVs are too heavy and that plug-in hybrids offer a better compromise for the average car buyer, BMW poured resources into making an EV without the typical downsides of a battery electric vehicle. The idea was to make an electric car that didn’t require a gigantic battery pack, one that wasn’t perilously heavy. To do so, BMW would make the i3 into the world’s first mass-produced car made out of carbon fibre. This was no small feat.

The earliest uses of carbon fibre in cars go back to British race cars from the 1960s, and the first complete chassis to be made out of carbon fiber dates to the early 1980s. It wasn’t until the ’90s that we saw a carbon fibre chassis in a production road car, and that was with the Bugatti EB110, which cost around 3.2 million and required outsourcing the carbon work to the rocket division of French aerospace company Aerospatiale. Even in 2008, BMW’s plans for what it ultimately called the i cars really were at the leading edge.

The first of these to make production was the i3, a hatchback city car that would look at home parked in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Big windows gave great visibility, and while the car was too short for four full doors, BMW squeezed suicide doors behind the fronts. With both opened up, the i3 was outstandingly bright and airy. The light interior, seats finished in wool and the dash finished with eucalyptus, certainly helped. BMW also used a plant called kenaf in the interior trim; it’s a natural fibre similar to jute. Kenaf had been used as a backing material underneath a synthetic coating. With the i3, BMW put it up front, lighter and more sustainable.

Photo: NurPhoto

BMW even sourced its carbon fibre from Washington State, where the factory could rely 100% on local hydropower. The company was using technical solutions to make a more sustainable new car.

Its styling was daring, as was how BMW put the i3 together. BMW effectively split the car in two. All of the car’s essential systems – battery, motor, suspension, crash structures, and the optional range extender – were carried on an aluminum skateboard called the “Drive module.” The “Life module” that housed the interior and framed the body panels was what was made out of carbon. The top and bottom halves were glued together, or “chemically bonded” if you want that to sound less scary.

BMW did successfully make the car pretty light for what it was, coming in between 1200 and 1300 kilograms depending on the trim. A Nissan Leaf weighed hundreds of kilograms more, a Chevrolet Volt nearly 400 kilos more.

Sticking to low-weight principles meant that the i3 was never going to have a huge battery, and the biggest available pack was still only 42.2 kWh. The EPA rated it at 246 kilometres of range. The “REX” range extender boosted that figure to 320 kilometres, with a two-cylinder engine from BMW’s motorcycle division shoehorned under the trunk. For all of BMW’s investment in the i3, these weren’t earth-shattering numbers.

Photo: picture alliance

All of its innovation was costly, and BMW’s city car ended up relatively expensive. It started at €34,950 in Germany, $61.300 AUD. That went up to $67,000 for the Range Extender model. The most expensive versions of the i3 topped out at nearly $89,000.

(Rather curiously, all range-extended BMW i3s have 10.9 litre petrol tanks. In the U.S., however, to legally qualify as a range-extended electric vehicle, the i3 could not have more range available from its internal combustion setup than its pure battery. At that point, the government would have classified the i3 as a plug-in hybrid, not unlike the Chevy Volt. As such, all range-extended i3s initially sold in America were restricted by software alone to use just 8.6 letters of that 10.9 litre tank. Only in 2017 when BMW introduced a longer-range battery could BMW digitally unlock the full 10 litres.)

Its high price meant the i3 asked a lot of compromises of a luxury car buyer just to have the most environmentally-friendly vehicle possible. A regular 3 Series cost about the same and was much easier to live with, unless you were regularly parking on dense urban streets. Most Americans don’t.

If anything, the rather practical i3 was too good at its job. All the money that BMW had invested in its technical innovations cost it its chance to make a dent in the car market.

That would have been fine if BMW continued to roll its high development costs into future models, perpetually bringing down its own prices, but BMW wasn’t interested in keeping its i thing going. Chief executive Norbert Reithofer stepped down early in 2015 and BMW canceled the car in 2022 with no second generation. The company has gone back to completely conventional ICE, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV options. All of its EVs share their platforms with gas-burning equivalents, saving costs in development and on the showroom floor. They sell better than the i3 ever did.

BMW i3 Photo : picture alliance The i3 Brought Carbon Fiber to Mass Production

The only follow-up BMW did to the i3 was the dramatic i8, with butterfly doors opening up into a low slung cabin, flying buttresses directing air around its mid-mounted three-cylinder turbo engine. A dedicated PHEV, the i3’s engine did actually drive the rear wheels, and an electric motor drove the fronts. What shattered the illusion was that the front motor only made 97.6 kilowatts and the rear engine only 131. It might have looked like a supercar, but it didn’t drive like one. Like the i3, its carbon construction set it apart from its contemporaries, but also made it much more expensive than they ever were. In the U.S., the i8 started at a hair under $136,000 (AUD 200,000), which was a big ask for a car with three cylinders.

Following the same troubles as the i3, the i8 looked like one thing but was priced like another. It went on sale in 2014, not far behind the i3, and soldiered on through 2020, dying without a successor. An open-topped Roadster came in 2018 but didn’t change the car’s fate. Americans bought a grand total of 6,776 i8s through its entire production run. We buy that many Porsche 911s in a single year. Sometimes twice as many.

Photo: picture alliance

Taken at face value, the i8 is still a remarkable machine. A Porsche might be better on track, but the i8 is a dream realized in production form. It looks like nothing else on the road, even now.

And there is something that still feels contemporary about the i3. Its focus on low weight and low-impact manufacturing remains honorable. The electric car vision does us little good if it only reproduces the same more-is-more excess of internal combustion that clogs our roads with oversized vehicles.

As we now watch Tesla Cybertrucks lumber down the road at over 3,129 kilograms, GMC Hummer EVs pounding the pavement at over 4350 kilograms, BMW’s post-Recession vision is as relevant as ever.

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On the Crest

Surfing superstardom came early for Jack Robinson. Now Australia’s humble hero is chasing Olympic glory – keeping his head down.

By Horacio Silva 09/07/2024

There is a video on the internet of Jack Robinson at 15. In it, the pint-sized, towheaded Robinson, who was already considered the best young surfer on the planet, sports a cheeky gap-toothed smile and blunt bob to rival Lindy Chamberlain’s. Asked what he likes most about the sport, the shy grommet struggles for words, eventually offering, “Barrels, big hacks and airs.” 

Even at this age, Robinson prefers to let his surfing do the talking. But, as his interviewer surmises, don’t mistake reticence for unpreparedness: “When this young gun hits the surf, even the seasoned pros shake their heads in dismay.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

Sixteen years later, Margaret River-born Robinson still beggars belief with his ability to seemingly walk on water. The bowl cut is gone (replaced by a new do that Robinson got for a recent photo shoot and that he jokingly refers to as “the full GQ”), but the difficulty in getting his point across remains, though not from a lack of effort. “Sorry, I’m trying to get my words together,” says Robinson, now 31 and based on the Gold Coast. “I didn’t sleep much last night and I’m hurting.”

He quickly explains that he was not out on the town with hard-partying surfer mates—far from it. These days, Robinson and his Brazilian wife, Julia, have a five-month-old baby boy, Zen, whose behaviour did not live up to the serenity of his name.

Beatriz Ryder

“I just woke up from a nap, actually,” Robinson adds. “At this stage, I get sleep wherever and whenever I can.”

He would do well to get some shut-eye. Robinson heads to Teahupo’o in Tahiti next month, where this year’s Olympic Games surfing competition is being held. Though he is currently ranked number three in the world, he has mastered some of the most challenging big-wave conditions, including a win with a late barrel at the Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o last August, and is tipped as one of Australia’s best chances for gold.

With good reason, says Tom Carroll, the two-time world champion and Quiksilver ambassador. “That wave is up his alley,” says Carroll, who is now a meditation teacher on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “He knows that break in all its various moods and forms. If the conditions are not favourable on the day, when some of his biggest rivals fall apart, he can still feel it out. He assesses the conditions in a nanosecond.”

It’s that fearless ability to be in the moment, to paddle out in anything and feel at home, that Carroll first noticed when Robinson was 11. “He has an innate sense for the water and the way it moves,” Carroll continues. “It revealed itself from the get-go and to see it expressed is quite extraordinary.”

Beatriz Ryder

These days Robinson is more focussed on the ordinary. “I’m trying to keep it simple,” he offers, “to stick to the same routines, and make sure that I am in a good headspace going into the Olympics.” Beyond countless hours in the water and gym, this means time spent on meditation, yoga and breath work. “It’s a super mental sport now,” he adds. “You have to be a smart competitor. It’s not just about surfing.”

Aside from the boards, gym equipment and yoga mats, the Robinson household is all prams, toys and nappies. “It doesn’t leave room for much of anything else,” he laments. “I love fishing and cars, and really want to get into flying planes but that will have to wait.” His role as a father has given him a different perspective on his sport and his own upbringing. Robinson, like many sporting phenoms, was coached by a domineering parent (his father Trev) and concedes it wasn’t always a swell ride.

“It was challenging growing up for sure,” he says. “But to reach this level you need people in your corner. Even if he was looked at as a little crazy by some people, he gave 100 percent and then some. I have a newfound respect for that.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

He has the same regard for his competitors. When asked about the chances of his biggest rivals, Americans Griffin Colapinto and John John Florence, he is diplomatic to a fault. “I haven’t really thought about the other guys too much,” he demurs. “I’ve just been inspired by them. Even the last event with John John”—when Florence defeated Robinson in his native Western Australia—“I was just really inspired by his performance. It makes me want to do better.”

Perhaps if the whole modelling caper doesn’t pan out, after he retires from the sport he may want to consider a career in politics. “Nah,” he admits. “Leave that to others. Maybe that’s a path for Zen.”

The Olympic Games surfing competition begins July 27. 

 

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