In mid-January, 3 musicians from the Band of the RAF Regiment swapped RAF Northolt for somewhat chillier, but sunnier, climbs in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria to participate in the RAF Alpine Championships 2019.
‘Ski Champs’ as it is informally known, is the RAF's biggest annual sporting event and sees skiers and snowboarders of all abilities come together for lessons and racing in the Austrian Alps. A variety of ski and snowboard races take place throughout the week, from Improver races for those new to skiing, to the main Giant Slalom and Downhill events which allow the RAF Alpine Team to select their squad for the upcoming Inter-Services Championships in February.
After very heavy snowfall the previous week, thankfully weather conditions settled and were almost perfect all week long. This gave everyone ample opportunity to explore the 270km of pistes in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, sample the apres-ski on offer, and of course to compete in the huge variety of ski and snowboard races that took place throughout the week.
An early-morning start from RAF Northolt saw Senior Aircaftmen Chris Dennis, Andy Leonard and Senior Aircraftwoman Emily Jenner safely arrive in Austria ready for lessons to begin straight away. Everybody was sorted into carefully matched ability groups with lessons being delivered throughout the week by RAF Ski Instructors. They helped each group develop their technique and navigate around the vast number of pistes and lifts that make up Saalbach-Hinterglemm. There was also time to sample some typical Austrian culture and cuisine, with the Apfelstrudel mit Vanillesauce being a particular group favourite!
"The standard of skiing instruction was truly fantastic, and it was also a great opportunity to meet lots of people from across the Royal Air Force. Everybody was really interested to hear about life as an RAF Musician, and especially the engagements that we've been involved in recently."
Senior Aircraftwoman Emily Jenner
Thursday was race-day and saw Senior Aircraftwoman Emily Jenner compete in the Improvers Ski Giant Slalom. The more experienced Senior Aircraftmen Chris Dennis and Andy Leonard competed in the Individual Grand Slalom - the same course that the RAF Ski Team also raced on! All three musicians safely completed both runs - no mean feat bearing in mind that this was, for some, their first experience of ski racing.
“Competing in the Giant Slalom alongside the RAF Ski Team and Committee was a lot of fun, but also an eye opener - their technique and finish times are definitely something to aspire to. The course was interesting and challenging with a variety of different turns and terrain. Coming 47th out of over 100 competitors was a great achievement for myself, and I am looking forward to hopefully bettering this next year.”
Senior Aircraftman Andy Leonard
With a final day of free skiing around the pistes, a phenomenal week came to an end and it was time to return home to RAF Northolt. Attending and competing in the RAF Alpine Championships was a career-highlight for all three musicians, representing RAF Music Services amidst almost 800 RAF personnel.
Article written by: Senior Aircraftwoman Emily Jenner