Human Power eJournal
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article 11, issue 03

Power levels during stair climbing

Theo Schmidt
December 31, 2006, updated September 30, 2017


The Niesenlauf

Niesen stairsThe peak in the Swiss Bernese Oberland known as the Niesen has a funicular railway up its flank. There is a flight of steps alongside the whole way, supposedly the world's longest. It has 11'674 steps and goes from an altitude of 693 m to 2336 m, giving a difference of 1643 m. Then there is a footpath to the peak itself at 2362 m, giving total 1669 m altitude gain. The organisers list 1723 m; there may be some short descents. Since 2004 there is an annual opportunity to race up the steps in summer, including the flatter bit at the top. Details are provided in German at the website A picture from this website shows the bottom part of the steps apparently here covered by a metal surface and steepening further up.

The best times up the total 1679 meter climb are around 1 hour for younger men and the overall record 55 minutes (2011) by Emmanuel Vaudan.  Using the equation below, if we assume that these contestants have a mass of 80 kg, the average power is about 365 W to 400 W (record).

    P [W] = m [kg] · g [m/s2] · h [m] / t [s]

where m is the person's mass, g is the local gravity at the midpoint at 9.803 m/s2, h is the height climbed, and t is the time taken.

This power level is about at the level given by the NASA curve for "first class athletes" engaged in foot cranking (see here, from Human Power 45 page 18 (3.9 MB PDF download), even though most of the contestants are local amateurs. It can be concluded that climbing stairs is a pretty efficient way to exert human power.

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