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.


Subscribe to the Newsletter

Stay Connected

You may also like.

The Boldest, Most Exciting New Timepieces From Watches & Wonders 2024

Here are the highlights from the world’s biggest watch releases of the year.

By Allen Farmelo, Carol Besler, Paige Reddinger, Oren Hartov, Victoria Gomelsky, Cait Bazemore, Nick Scott, Justin Fenner 10/04/2024

Watches & Wonders, the world’s largest watch show, is in full swing in Geneva. The highly anticipated cascade of new releases is marked by confident individual brand identities — perhaps a sign that watchmakers are done scrambling through the violent collision of restricted supply and soaring demand for high end watches. All seem to be back on solid footing.

Steady confidence is a good thing. Consider Jaeger-LeCoultre offering up traditionally styled grand complications or Vacheron Constantin revamping the classic Patrimony with smaller cases and vintage-inspired radially brushed dials. Consider TAG Heuer celebrating the 55th anniversary of the square Monaco with a skeletonized flyback confidently priced at US$183,000, or Moser similarly showing off a fascinating skeletonized tourbillon in its distinctive 40 mm Streamliner at US$86,900. IWC has leaned hard into their traditionally styled Portugieser line, including an astounding Eternal Calendar complication. We find the storied French houses of Cartier, Chanel and Hermes blurring the lines between jewelry and watchmaking with the technical prowess and artistic whimsy that originally earned these brands their exalted place in the hearts and minds of sophisticated aesthetes. Confidence abounds in 2024.

We could go on and on with examples, but the watches below will demonstrate that for 2024 the big watch brands dared to be themselves, which appears to have given them the confidence to take some seriously compelling horological risks. We have separate coverage of off-show releases and, of course, Patek and Rolex, so keep and eye out for those.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

A Gucci Garden Blooms in Sydney

On a rainy Sydney night, the drinks talent from Maybe Sammy mixed with guest bartenders from Giardino 25 in Florence, for a night of liquid magic.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 13/04/2024

Since hanging out its shingle in 2022, Giardino 25, the all-day café and bar located in Gucci’s palatial, multidisciplinary space in Florence, has been a boon to stylish tipplers. Taking inspiration from one of its previous tenants (a longstanding florist), the garden-themed joint (Giardino is the Italian word for garden) serves delicious aperitivi and dangerously addictive cocktails.


Umbrian native Martina Bonci is in hair-to-brogue Gucci for her artful bartending session at El Primo Sanchez. 
Aurora cocktai at Giardino 25, Florence.

Giardino 25 took bloom this past Tuesday at a pop-up at El Primo Sanchez in Paddington. The Maybe Cocktail Festival in Sydney is a series of 20 events scattered throughout the city curated by the award-winning Sammy’s Cocktails team. The festival aims to spur knowledge-sharing and foster excellence in Australia’s drinks scene.

“Last year we held 16 events and they were all packed,” says Stefano Catino, director of hospitality at Public, the management company behind Maybe Sammy venues and bottled drinks, “so this year we’ve curated extra events and flown out even more international bars and bartenders.”

“Nineteen of the 21 events are free to attend, which is very important to us,” he continues. “The cost of living is high, and it’s very expensive for Australians to travel overseas, so this festival allows people to drink cocktails from an amazing bar in Rome or try a Tommy’s Margarita from the gentleman who created it without the cost of a plane ticket.”

Dressed head to toe in Gucci,  and using the bar as her personal catwalk, Giardino 25’s special guest, Martina Bonci, looked every bit the star behind the bar. “We have brought our mix of classic Italian influences and innovation,” she told Robb Report, “so guests in Australia get a little slice of what we do in Florence.”

Among her tantalising pours were powerful dirty martinis decorated with shimmering gold leaf and Aurora, a transparent twist on the Negroni.

Reflecting on her whirlwind trip down under, Bonci said their visit to Bondi Beach and the cocktails at Maybe Sammy were the highlights.

“The bartenders at Maybe Sammy are world-class,” she explained. “There is a good reason they win awards and have a respected reputation overseas. And El Primo Sanchez has such a fun atmosphere—we had a great night.”

Martina Bonci, Bar Manager at Gucci Giardino 25, has been honored twice as ‘Best Bartender in Italy’ by both the Bargiornale and Blue Blazer Awards. 

Bonci, who came to prominence in a long string at Milanese hipster joint Gesto and is known for her use of agave, favors drinks dripping with seasonal fruits and citrus flavors. Having tried her creations, we do, too.

She made a serious impression on Sydneysiders, who would do well to make a pilgrimage to see her in action on home turf. As if any of us need another reason to visit Italy.

The Maybe Cocktail Festival, continues this weekend in Sydney, with the public welcome to attend a Bartenders Brunch at Sydney’s Alpha on Sunday from 11.00 am – 3.00 pm, hosted by George Calombaris. 

View the program: Maybe Cocktail Festival @maybe_cocktail_fetsival

All images courtesy of Gucci.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Patek Philippe Brings Back Collector Favourites at Watches & Wonders 2024

Both the Nautilus Chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time receive a welcome return.

By Josh Bozin 10/04/2024

If you’re a watch fan, there’s every reason to believe that a Patek Philippe Nautilus, Patek Philippe Aquanaut—or both—would be high on your wish list. Both collections are of historical significance, helping pave the way for the influence of the steel sports watch category—and subsequent chokehold on the market today.

So, when Patek Philippe unveiled its newest releases at Watches & Wonders in Geneva, it was a pleasant surprise to see the return of two of the best past iterations of the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Nautilus Chronograph

First, we get a new Nautilus Chronograph, with the return of the revered 5980, now replete with a new case in white gold and a denim-like strap (a contentious issue among watch pundits). Discontinuing all Nautilus 5980 models earlier this year, including the collector-favourite 5980/1AR in Rose Gold, left a sombre feeling among Nautilus fanatics. These celebrated chronographs, renowned for their distinctive porthole-inspired design and air of sporty elegance, are some of the most sought-after watches in the Patek Philippe catalogue. Thus, the revival of the 5980, now in white gold, is a cause for collectors’ celebration.

The new offering retains its chronograph function with mono-counter tracking 60-minute and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock on the dial, but now comes on a new denim-inspired, hand-stitched fabric strap with a Nautilus fold-over clasp in white gold—some will love it, some won’t.

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

The Calibre CH 28‑520 C/522 powers this new Nautilus with its flyback chronograph, all of which is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal caseback. The dial is also incredibly eye-catching, with a beautiful opaline blue-gray hue accentuated by white gold-applied hour markers with a white luminescent coating. It is priced at approximately $112,000.

Also returning to the fold is the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time, now with its own bluish hue dial—similar to its Nautilus counterpart. After discontinuing the Aquanaut Travel Time 5164A this year, as well—a watch often regarded as the greatest Aquanaut to date—Patek Philippe surprised all with the new 5164G in white gold. Its greatest attribution is the clever Travel Time GMT function, which clearly rivals the Rolex GMT-Master II as perhaps the travel-friendly watch of choice (if acquiring one was that simple, of course).

For those who prefer the Aquanaut’s sportiness and easy-wearing rubber strap, this newest iteration, with its Opaline Blue-gray dial and matching rubber strap with a deployant clasp, is undoubtedly an icon in the making. The new 5164G has a 40mm case and features the Calibre 26‑330 S C FUS movement, which can also be viewed via the transparent sapphire crystal caseback.

Expect to pick up the new Aquanaut Travel Time for around $95,250.  

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Travel Time


Follow @robbreportau for all your Watches & Wonders coverage, and more!


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Rolex Kicks Off Watches & Wonders 2024 with a New GMT-Master II

The new stainless steel GMT-Master II has already been dubbed the “Bruce Wayne”.

By Josh Bozin 09/04/2024

It may not be the GMT that watch pundits were speculating on—or that collectors were hoping for—but the new Rolex GMT-Master II with a new grey and black ceramic bezel adds dazzle to the revered Rolex collection, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The idea of a new Rolex GMT launching at the world’s biggest watch fair is cause for a little madness. While the watch community eagerly awaited what was thought to be the discontinuation of the highly sought-after GMT “Pepsi” and the return of the GMT “Coke,” the luxury Swiss watchmaker had other plans.

Instead, we’re presented with a piece that, on paper, hasn’t changed much from previous GMT releases. That’s not to say that this isn’t an impressive release that will speak to consumers—the new GMT-Master II ref.126710GRNR, dubbed the “Bruce Wayne,” is definitely a sight for sore eyes.


This new GMT retains the same dimensions and movement as the other watches in the GMT collection, along with its 40mm size case and the option to fit either an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The obvious changes, albeit subtle, come in the way of its mostly monochrome return; a fact that will appease traditionalists. If you’re opposed to the attention-drawing “Pepsi”, “Sprite”, or “Batman” iterations, this model is a stealthier pick—much like pseudonymous Bruce Wayne.

The other noticeable change is the “GMT-Master II” now applied in green text and a 24-hour hand in green; perhaps a nod to the 2007 Basel World GMT release.

Like many Rolex timepieces, this will generate great hype and attention, so don’t expect allocations to come easily.


Model: GMT-Master II
Reference Number: 126710GRNR

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Colour: Black
Lume: Chromalight on hands and hour markers
Water Resistance: 100m
Bracelet: Oyster or Jubilee

Movement: Caliber 3285
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Power Reserve: 70 hours
Winding: Automatic

Price: $17,150 (Oyster); $17,500 (Jubilee)
Availability: Now. Non-limited edition

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

Moments in Time

Silversea’s Kimberley adventures transport passengers into a different dimension.

By Vince Jackson 09/04/2024

Whoever refuted the theory of time-travel has clearly never set foot in the Kimberley, a geological relic where craggy landscapes forged hundreds of millions of years ago remain untouched, and dinosaur footprints are still etched into the ochre terrain. And while traversing one of the planet’s last great wildernesses in a 4X4 holds rugged appeal, a more refined way to explore the Western Australian outback is by cruise liner. 

Enter the Silver Cloud, one of Silversea’s most luxurious vessels, available for 10- or 17-day expeditions. Upon arrival via private executive transfer, expect a level of intimacy that’s often conspicuous on other cruise experiences. With a maximum of just 200 guests, attended to by 212 staff, the Silver Cloud can lay claim to the greatest passenger-to-crew ratios operating in the Kimberley. Twenty-four-hour butler service is standard for every suite, along with ocean views—no matter if you plump for a modest 22 m² Vista Suite or supersize to a 217 m² Grand Suite.

Yet bigger is not necessarily better on water; the ship itself is compact enough to manoeuvre into isolated coves and waterways that larger vessels—or, indeed, four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers—are unable access. Each sunrise brings the promise of an unforgettable adventure, whether hopping on a Zodiac at Koolama Bay to witness the cascading thunder of the 80-m-high, twin King George Falls, or embarking at Swift Bay to scramble over rocky standstone and view the disparate rock-art forms on display at the sacred Wandjina art galleries—some reckoned to be up to 12,000 years old.

Another example of the Kimberley’s ability to propel you back through time.

Prices from $15,500 pp (10 days) and $23,900 pp (17 days); June 9-19, and August 8-25 or August 25- September 11 respectively; silversea.com

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.

Click here to subscribe to Robb Report ANZ.


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected