Exercise White Knight 30
Each winter the British Army descends on the European Alps to train and compete in alpine ski racing. The AAC and RAC traditionally start the ski season off with Exercise White Knight; six weeks of training and competition in the fantastic Swiss resort of Verbier. It is a real privilege as Verbier is renowned for its superb skiing and lively atmosphere.
The anticipation was palpable as the six man team headed for Dover in late November. We were sharing two vehicles with 4 Regiment so space was at a premium for the long 14 hour journey, but this did provide a great opportunity for team bonding. As we reached the foot hills of the Alps the snow began to fall thick and heavy. Little did we know this was to be the only snow fall we would see for the first three weeks; our dreams of glorious days spent powder skiing would sadly remain in the realms of our minds.
Our first tentative run on skis turned out to be a grading exercise with over 100 sets of eyes critiquing our every move. Some people could clearly talk the talk in the bar but were found wanting when asked to walk the walk! Graded and subsequently grouped, we then immersed ourselves in three weeks of dedicated training with a team of veteran Swiss Ski School instructors. Despite their age they put us all to shame with legs of steel and a sense of balance that simply boggled the mind.
After three relentless weeks our bodies yearned for some respite. Bruised but not broken, we were given three days off over Christmas. This presented an excellent opportunity to sample the famous Verbier social scene, something that did not disappoint!
With the Christmas festivities behind us it was time to race. Skis were waxed, edges sharpened, and sky blue cat suits became outfit of choice. There is something liberating about standing in a start gate at the top of an empty piste with only a thin layer of shiny lycra between you and the elements. To the shouts of “angulation” and “allez” we threw ourselves down the mountain as fast as possible for the glory of 3 Regiment AAC. With previous experience, Cpl Will Dop along with Capts Sam Blackmore, Phil Wilson, and Nathan Torbett consistently finished in the top 20 of 100. With less experience and training LCpls Luke Corbin and Craig Warner were initially placed lower down the order but made incredible headway through the field, showing exciting potential for future years.
Having achieved a solid performance in Verbier, the team then had to split two ways. For some the reality of the real world back at Wattisham called. For four lucky individuals the challenge of the Divisional Championships awaited.
Divisional Championships: Exercise SPARTAN HIKE 2014
With Verbier in our rear-view mirror, we bid adieu to our surrogate home for the last six weeks and headed for the Serre-Chevalier Vallée to ‘knuckle down’ to some high level competition. 35 teams from all across three UK Div descended on Villeneuve for what was to be nine days of intense racing with a much more serious feel to it than in Verbier.
With both 3 and 4 Regiment living opposite each other, a healthy level of banter fed morale and helped to cure the acute withdrawal symptoms from Verbier. The racing commenced immediately only hindered slightly by something that we hadn’t seen in Verbier… too much snow. This meant races were conducted in a slightly unusual order, with team giant slalom, followed by super G, team slalom, slalom, giant slalom and finally downhill. Luckily this suited 3 Regiment as Verbier had proven we preferred to strap on the longest skis possible, point them straight down, and go as fast as gravity would allow. Slalom was our nemesis with a mere miss-placed ski costing either lots of time or a disqualification, as Cpl Dop and Capt Torbett found out all too well.
With the first competitive race over however, most of us had improved on our initial starting point. That said, the mystery of the seeding point lottery continued to confuse all that tried to work it out. With the next race a single run of the super G (very similar to the downhill but with a couple more gates). Plenty of time in the morning allowed for a number of thorough inspections of the ‘little roller’ (massive jump) before the race. Once dressed in spandex and going at race pace, people were flying all over the place!
With a taste for speed, 3 Regiment excelled with everyone making up a minimum of 17 places and some as many as 29. Capt Torbett even achieved a top 15 finish amongst a field of 160 racers. After surviving the Slalom we moved back to the key speed event: Downhill. With the training day in falling snow, we had an unexpected surprise on the race itself. In cold and pisted conditions, the jump that had been a non-event during training now launched racers 50m down the slope! With five of the top 15 falling, it was an intimidating run where making it to the finish was a much an aim as going flat out. Thankfully Cpl Dop was to be our only victim with a minor technical error. The remainder of the team put in a great performance and once more improved on start positions.
Overall, although not hugely competitive against the traditionally strong teams, we had a selection of excellent results which show much promise for the future. Exercise Spartan Hike is a great way to culminate six weeks intense training. It tests both your nerves (downhill) and your technical ability as a skier (the dreaded slalom!).
Combined, WHITE KNIGHT and SPARTAN HIKE provide a real challenge for all involved. They are both incredible fun and such a unique opportunity; something I would recommend to anyone.
Keep your eyes peeled for information on next year!