Only the brave: the most challenging public-entry ski races in the Alps

Advice

Racing quickens the pulse.  It brings people together, it’s a great excuse for a party and in crowded resorts where we are forever being told to slow down, it makes a refreshing change to be encouraged to belt down the mountain as fast as we like; faster, in fact. Never mind lunch and pretty scenery. The essential thrill of skiing, which got us hooked on the sport in the first place, is speed. Arnold Lunn, founder of the first racing club in the Alps, the Kandahar in Mürren, called it “The rapture of the finest motion known to man.”          

Popular fun run downhills are open to all keen skiers, with no club membership or special training required. As resorts wake up to the value of events as bed-fillers in low season, more races take place every year. Worried about safety?  You’re more likely to do yourself an injury dancing on the table after the race.

Here’s our pick of the best. All races are open to skiers and snowboarders unless otherwise stated.   

2018/2019 season

Parsenn Derby

Klosters, Switzerland: March 8 to 9, 2019

The oldest of the great downhill marathons was first raced in January 1924 and at its longest ran the full length of Kloster’s famous 12km run from the Weissfluh (2,844m) to Küblis (810m). It has since shrunk and now finishes near the tree-line at Obersäss (2,013m). It’s an exciting test of nerve, with a steep opening schuss followed by a roller-coaster with jumps if taken at full tilt. Training runs on Thursday, team race on Friday, individual race on Saturday.   

Entry fee: CHF 30 (individual race)
Minimum age: 16
Find out more scdavos.ch. Klosters tour operator PT Ski offers a Parsenn Derby package including four nights b&b at the four-star Silvretta Parkhotel and race entry, including transfers but not  flights from £865.

Parsenn Derby

The Parsenn Derby is one of the longest running downhill marathons

Credit:
Lars Schaefer LARS.K.SCHAEFER@gmail.com/Lars Schaefer

Allalin Downhill

Saas Fee, Switzerland: April 5 to 6, 2019

In Saas Fee the highest glacier downhill is a thigh-burning top-to-bottom schuss from 3,500m to 1,800m with the fastest racers completing the 9km course in under five minutes.  Various formats of team race, including a fancy dress category, on Friday and an individual race on Saturday. There’s a mountain bike race over the same course the previous week.      

Entry fee: CHF 50
Minimum age: 18
Find out more saas-fee.ch.

Derby de la Meije

La Grave, France: April 5, 2019

The other events listed here are a playground stroll compared with this wild off-piste race on a famously rugged mountain, from 3,550m (weather permitting) to 1,480m (snow permitting), starting in groups of 10, with only one gate and almost no rules. Do it on skis, a snowboard, a mountain bike, anything that slides.  A skier usually wins. Don’t enter unless familiar with the lie of the land.

Entry fee: : €75  
Minimum age: 16   
Find out more derbydelameije.com.

Derby de la Meije

If it slides it can be used in the Derby de la Meije

Red Bull Homerun

Davos, Switzerland: April 5, 2019

This mass-participation downhill in Davos gets under way after the lifts close with a Le Mans start – a sprint (or a stroll, for less competitive fancy dress racers) from the Jatzhütte restaurant near the top of the Jakobshorn (2,590m) to a pile of skis and snowboards 200 yards away.  From there it’s hell for leather for 6.8km down the piste to Davos (1,540m). The event is also held in Aspen, Colorado and Åre, Sweden.

Entry fee: CHF 50
Minimum age: 16
Find out more redbull.com.

homerun

It’s a sprint start in the Homerun

Credit:
Adam Klingeteg / Red Bull Content Pool

Der Weisse Rausch (The White Thrill)

St Anton, Austria: April 21, 2019

Named after a famous pre-war ski film that launched the Arlberg ski area, this spring’s thrash starts at 5pm on the last day of the season with a frenetic old-fashioned mass start on the Valluga summit (2,650m) followed by a steep climb – carrying skis – and a 9km blast down to St Anton (1,300m). There’s a shorter junior race earlier in the afternoon.

Entry fee: €45     
Minimum age: 16 (seniors) 11 (juniors).
Find out more stantonamarlberg.com.

2019/2020 season

Hexenabfahrt (Witches’ Downhill)

Belalp, Switzerland: January 18, 2020

Belalp/Blatten is a tall ski area near Brig in south-central Switzerland without an international profile, and its annual downhill race has the flavour of local Swiss carnival celebration. Fancy dress is the order of the day, with teams made up of broom-wielding witches and racers in catsuits. The full course is 12km from Hohstock (3,100m) to Blatten (1,300m), but the race often finishes at Belalp (2,050m) below which the run is a forest road with hairpins.  The race is not open to snowboarders. Junior and family races take place the previous weekend.

Entry fee: CHF 50 
Minimum age: 18 (for seniors)  7 (juniors)
Find out more belalphexe.ch.

Witches’ Downhill

The witches of Belalp ready to race

The White Ring

Lech/Zürs, Austria: January 18, 2020    

This race around the circuit of lifts and pistes linking the two fashionable Arlberg resorts starts at the top of the Rufikopf cable-car (2,362m) and finishes in Lech (1,450m).  The fastest competitors, such as local hotelier and Olympic gold medallist Patrick Ortlieb, complete the six lift rides and 22km of skiing in about 45 minutes. There’s also a speed race at Zürs on Thursday. Late entry possible if booked through hotels.

Entry fee:  €150 (both races)
Minimum age: 16
Find out more lechzuers.com.

the white ring

The White Ring race includes the lifts

The Inferno

Mürren, Switzerland: January 25, 2020

Mürren set the template for the mass participation downhill race, and The Inferno remains the blue riband event, with the longest and most interesting course, the richest history, the most beautiful setting, the best after-party and the best name. 1,850 amateur skiers of widely varying age and ability take part, starting every 12 seconds through the day with a large entry from the Kandahar Ski Club, 17 of whose members raced the first Inferno in 1928. Snow and weather conditions do not always permit a race over the full course – 14.9km from near the top of the Schilthorn (2970m) to Lauterbrunnen (800m) – but the Inferno always has at least one uphill section.  The main event on Saturday is preceded by an evening cross-country race through the village. The Inferno course is not difficult to ski in good visibility and the race is always oversubscribed; apply before mid-September. No snowboarders.  

Entry fee:  Chf 70 (downhill)
Minimum age: 18     
Find out more inferno-muerren.ch.

inferno

The Inferno race is set in the dramatic Swiss Alps

Credit:
2019 by Rene Pfluger www.maletg.com/Rene Pfluger maletg.com

Peak to Creek

Bormio, Italy: January 25, 2020

Bormio extends the challenge of its World Cup Downhill course for its people’s race, from the top half of the mountain to the whole thing. It’s an extremely fast 8km course from Cime Bianche (3,012m) to the resort (1,225m), with several steep sections. Top guns average 60mph-plus and finish in under five minutes. Entries close a few days before the race but the price goes up 10 days before that. No racing catsuits; snowboarders can enter, but race at the back of the field.

Entry fee: €25
Minimum age: 18
Find out more peaktocreek.it.

peak to creek

The Peak to Creek course is 8km of sheer speed

Want to take racing more seriously?

The International Ski Federation (FIS) runs a circuit of events  slalom, GS and Super-G – for racers aged over 30 in the Alps and further afield.  You don’t need race experience to enter, but you do need an FIS licence.  For information on how to get involved and a calendar of races, visit the British Masters website.

More than 50 dry slopes and indoor snowdomes around the UK are used by local ski clubs for race training and a year-round programme of regional and national championships. Most clubs welcome all ages but are primarily aimed at younger skiers.  These may be a stepping stone to greater things or just for fun in themselves. Further information from Snowsports England, Snowsports Scotland and Snowsports Wales

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