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For the week of April 11 through April 17, 2001

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 photo.

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, cool.

"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 Trophy.

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 Yanks.

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 ski races.

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 the Kanonenrohr.

"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 firm snow."

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 back."

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 race.

"He had done it in 1982 and we had talked about it," Carlson said. "It’s just a crazy European tradition."

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 though."

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."

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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.