The traditional home of British skiing, Mürren is a must-see destination and is never more astonishing than when the Mürren Inferno crowd are in town to party, or partake in the Mürren Inferno race.
Mürren is one of the most dramatic ski resorts in the Alps. The traditional village sits along a cliff edge overlooking a deep, narrow valley that has a fairytale feel. Sometimes you can ski right to the bottom, sometimes not. But look up and you see what seems to be the faraway summit, then you see another cable car heading for an even loftier summit, almost 10,000ft, even farther away.
An exciting spot high on the tree-covered mountainside with views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – it takes a cable car ride from the valley and then a 15-minute mountain train journey to get here. It’s a place that oozes old-world Brit charm. The Kandahar Ski Club, formed here in 1924 by visitors including ski race and holiday skiing pioneer Arnold Lunn, still has a clubhouse and there’s a feel somewhere between the Alps and the Home Counties. Lunn’s great-grandson William lives here and alongside other British visitors who married into local families.
Mürren is a dramatic area. The Schilthornbahn cable car rises from one end of the village up to 8,780ft Birg and its restaurant. From there the next stage rises to 9,745ft, a stirring, lonely peak, still with its Piz Gloria revolving restaurant, star of the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There’s only one way down from here, a steep black run that can take you much of the way to village level although there are red and blue alternatives farther down. At the far end of the village, the Winteregg chairlift (also a mountain train station) is often as far as you can get, although if conditions are very good there’ a red run down to the valley cable car at Lauterbrunnen. In mid-village the Allmendhubel funicular, burrowing through the mountain, heads up to varied lifts and runs.
There’s plenty more on the Jungfrau lift pass. At Lauterbrunnen (a spellbinding, steep-sided valley with plunging waterfalls, on which visiting hiker JRR Tolkien based the idyllic Rivendell in The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings) hop on the train (free with lift pass) round the bend to the other side of the valley for Wengen’s easy-going runs, plus the cable car that lifts you over to the big piste skiing of Grindelwald.
The full length of the race is 14.9km (9.25 miles), from just below the Schilthorn summit to Lauterbrunnen, a vertical drop from 2,970m to 800m. The bottom section, however, isn’t always skiable in which case (as it was for us) the race ends at Winteregg, a 9.5km (5.9 mile) chase.
From before 8am on Saturday right though until late afternoon racers set off every 12 seconds. There are long, speedy schusses, 90-degree bends, a zig-zag section and short climbs. For our race, the shorter one, the fastest times were under seven minutes – an average of 60mph – while a good skier could, without pushing it, do it in 15.
My start time was 09:04:24 so already a goodly crowd had started – and by the time I was on my first fast stretch serious racers were swishing past me. But it’s a personal challenge rather than a competition and my 18-minute time took into account the fact that I’d only skied the course briefly the previous day – but I didn’t fall, unlike a goodly number of racers.
In the days before the Inferno itself there are cross-country and giant slalom races that can be entered as part of the Inferno Super Combination.
The facts? This was the 80th race in the Kandahar Ski Club’s 100-year history, war, covid and other events accounting for the missing years. The oldest racer for 2024 was 80, the youngest 18 but there were only 12 per cent of women – more are wanted. There were 27 countries represented, from the British Virgin Islands to South Africa, but lots of Brits – including former F1 champ Damon Hill, no slouch on skis (and also a regular participant in Momentum Ski’s City Ski Challenge at fellow Swiss resort Crans-Montana), with a time of 10 minutes.
Mürren comes alive at this time. The night before the race itself there’s the Inferno procession along the traffic-free streets. It was led by Wäschgärra, a thunderous brass band of young(ish) folk maybe 50-strong, in capes and curious tunics with four bass drums and another handful of percussionists with instruments on wheeled trolleys. The march ended at the skating rink where an effigy of the devil was set ablaze, Guy Fawkes-like.
The evening of the race was the prize-giving in the sports centre hall, just about everyone who’d raced and more, free to enter, with Wäschgärra pounding and parping, climbing on tables, as beer was downed before a more conventional rock band took to the stage.
The crowds include Cleeves Palmer, Kandahar Club president from 2011-18 and a veteran of 37 Infernos. As well as being head of the Palmers brewing family from Bridport, he’s deputy lieutenant of Dorset – and a fine skier, finishing in nine minutes 14 seconds.
How to do it
Application period for the 2025 Inferno (January 22-25) runs June 1 to September 15 (inferno-muerren.ch). There are generally close to 3,000 applications for 1,850 places. Priority goes to racers with a previous year’s time within 60 per cent of their category’s winner, with a ballot for the remainder (youngest must turn18 the year of the race). Entry is SF70 (£65); for the Inferno Super Combination (cross-country, giant slalom and downhill) it is SF100 (£92).
The Piz Gloria at the top of the Schilthorn was the Alps’ first revolving restaurant when it opened in 1969. There are mesmerising 360-degree views with one full turn taking 45 minutes. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service it served as the hideout of the dastardly Blofeld and was at the centre of a stirring ski chase involving Bond (the only time he was played by George Lazenby). The free – and very good – Spy World is a museum-like experience of photos and clips from the film (which also starred Diana Rigg) as well as bobsleigh and helicopter simulators. Outside on the Schilthorn ridge, 15 information panels form the Walk of Fame celebrating both cast and those behind the scenes. Even the gents’ toilets have images from the Bond girl-with-a-gun animated credits while Diana Rigg’s film comments (“What are you doing here?”) are strangely unsettling played over the sound system.
Where to stay
Mürren has a sweep of small, charming hotels but the resort is swamped when the Inferno comes to town.
Hotel Eiger – Opened in 1892 and run by the same family four generations on. Adrian Stahli is in charge and sister Sandra was famously given a sip of champagne by Diana Rigg to settle her during filming; she’s now the wine buyer. Grandiose chalet style was given a new larch wood exterior in 2022, with rooms and a wonderful swimming pool and spa overlooking the Eiger itself. hoteleiger.com
Hotel Edelweiss – A calm, uncluttered three-star place in an unrivalled spot on the edge of the cliff plunge down to Lauterbrunnen. A modern extension provides a truly panoramic restaurant/breakfast room with a large terrace and a breathtaking view across to the craggy mountain across the valley along with the Eiger and others a little farther back. Go into a small, unassuming timbered structure marked Edelweiss Premium and you find gorgeous rooms sunk over three floors down the cliff face with glass walls and balconies. edelweiss-muerren.ch
Hotel Drei Berge is traditional with a playful modern flair, rooms in rich fabrics and a jukebox in the lounge/bar. dreibergehotel.ch
Eating and drinking in Muerren
The Piz Gloria revolving restaurant has a splendid daily Bond Brunch, SF37 (about £35), as much as you can eat from the buffet by 2pm, from breakfast to lunch, including prosecco. Too much? Try the Bond Burger or a host of other menu dishes. schilthorn.ch
The Hotel Eiger has a good selection, whether the cosy restaurant, a panoramic terrace or the Eiger Stübli bar. The Edelweiss has ‘wild specials’ such as the homemade deer burger alongside favourites such as cheese fondue and rosti with raclette cheese.
The Gondolbar, an historic cable car cabin with a terrace at the back of the Hotel Jungfrau has apres-ski into the evening. Close by, the Hotel Drei Berge is another lovely spot, with colourful bar and lounge. The restaurant is interesting, if not cheap, with the likes of fish and chips pairing highly-rated and deep-fried trout fillet from Lake Blausee with string fries – nearly £40 though.
There are regular Swiss (swiss.com) flights from Heathrow to Zurich. From there the rail journey is an attraction in itself. A train from the airport will often get you direct to Interlaken – some journeys involve a couple of swift changes but it’s all woven into the Swiss clockwork timetable, so no worries. A 25-minute cog railway ride starts you on the upward trajectory, to Lauterbrunnen. The cable car from a timbered building that looks like a nice house whisks you upward from outside the station where the final (mini) train is waiting to nip you to Mürren. The station is opposite the Hotel Eiger and a five-minute walk from the Edelweiss.
More information: muerren.swiss
Inferno Race 2025
The next Inferno Race will take place from January 22-25, 2025.
The online registration will be open from 1 June – 15 September 2024.