Eric Carlson gains notoriety, wins the Inferno
First American man to win Swiss downhill since 1959
By JODY ZARKOS
Express Staff Writer
Eric Carlson is a small-town skier with big-time talent.
The 30-year-old local, one of Baldy’s best, won the
prestigious Inferno Downhill in Murren, Switz. in January.
They gave it a go, and Eric Carlson
emerged as the 2001 champion of the prestigious Inferno downhill at Murren,
Switz. in January. Here, the three Ketchum entrants pose near the race
site. They are, from left, Eric Carlson, who won in about four minutes and
11 seconds; Dates Fryberger Sr., who finished the course in about seven
minutes; and Dates Fryberger Jr., clocked in 4:43. Courtesy
Even more amazing than the win was the way he did it.
Starting 1,237th in a field of 1,800, Carlson blasted his way to the top
of the heap.
"It was definitely a surprise," he said.
"Everyone had gone home after the first five or six hundred racers.
Some British told me ‘we think you’re winning,’ and I thought, ‘okay,
"When I did win, people started freaking out. It was
amazing. They said I was a sensation from the USA."
Skiing in Switzerland is held in the same reverence as
baseball or football in the United States. It’s a religion. So, an
American winning the Inferno is akin to a European winning the Heisman
The last and only Americans to win the Inferno were Funk
Roland in 1959 and Buddy Werner in 1958.
Carlson’s unexpected victory was the third-ever for the
For the uninitiated, the Inferno is the largest amateur
alpine ski race in the world. It is the world’s longest downhill. Along
with the Arlberg Kandahar Race, the Inferno is one of the oldest of all
The first Inferno was held on Jan. 29, 1928. It has been
run 58 times since Sir Arnold Lunn’s inaugural event, which featured a
mass start and four woman, one of whom, Doreen Elliot, placed fourth,
despite stopping to help a competitor who had broken a rib.
Traditionally, the Inferno start is located just below the
famed Kleine Schilthorn.
The course continues through the Engetal to the Schilthorn
Hut, then follows a long "S" to the Muttlerenhorn and the
Kanonenrohr. The course climbs into woodland crossing the path of the
Maulerhubel ski lift. Another ascent leads to Winteregg. The finish is
located in Lauterbrunnen.
Race officials advertise, "This attractive course can
be covered by competent skiers in about 45 minutes."
The length of the course is 15.8 kilometers and has a
vertical drop of 2,170 meters. The men’s course record of 13 minutes and
53 seconds is held by Urs von Allmen of Lauterbrunnen.
Because of lack of snow, this year’s race finished at
"It was the shortest course on record, about 2,500
vertical feet. There were a couple steep sections, big roly poly sections
and two long cat roads where you got going really fast," Carlson
recounted. "The conditions were perfect with clear skies and pretty
Despite being a "short course," Carlson’s
winning time was a leg-aching four minutes and 11 seconds. His closest
competitor finished three minutes and 24 seconds behind him.
"People were stoked I won it, because the same three
guys have won it the last 11 years," Carlson said.
"There was a huge awards ceremony. 3,000 people
packed into this little Swiss village. This German woman telling us what
was going on. It took me five minutes to get to the podium because the
place was so packed and everyone was shaking my hand and patting me on the
When Carlson finally made it to the stage he was given a
beautiful hand-carved wood clock, an engraved medal and a pin.
Carlson, a goggle product manager at Smith Sport Optics in
Ketchum, was given entry to the race as part of a wedding present.
His father-in-law, Dates Fryberger, gave Carlson and wife
Stephanie a trip to Switzerland as a gift. Part of the package was the
"He had done it in 1982 and we had talked about
it," Carlson said. "It’s just a crazy European
Both Dates Fryberger Sr. and his son Dates Fryberger Jr.
also raced in the 2001 Inferno. Senior clocked in at 7:00.28 to finish
111th in his class and 1,219th overall. Junior crossed the line in 4:43.41
for 173rd in his class and 266th overall.
"We were doing it for giggles. I was hoping to make
the top 15, because it’s a big citizens race. You can’t have an FIS
license." Carlson said. "People take it really seriously
Carlson grew up in Bend, Ore. and learned to ski at Mt.
Bachelor. He made the U.S. Ski Development Team and raced on the Europa
Cup circuit, specializing in giant slalom and super giant slalom.
He met locals Skip Merrick and Tyler Ferris through racing
and spent a summer here, before moving here permanently five years ago
after graduating from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.
"Everyone seems to think it’s pretty cool,"
Carlson said about his win in Switzerland.
"Matt Luhn and the guys who know European ski
tradition are really happy for me."
"The kicker to the whole story is a couple of weeks
after the race, I was at the Munich Airport and this guy was staring at
me. He said, ‘you won the Inferno downhill. I raced in it and you won.’
"That was excellent."