Adventurous Training (AT) and Sport opportunities in the RAF are one of the aspects that draw many people to a military career. There are few other employers who can offer such a wide range of activities, and who appreciate the benefits that these give to developing personnel, both personally and professionally. The challenges faced on AT put personnel out of their comfort zone, allow them to be surprised at what they can achieve, develop leadership skills, build relationships and boost morale.
This January, several personnel from RAF Music Services took on various challenges of winter AT through the RAF Eagles Scheme and the RAF Ski Championships. A mixture of abilities, all participants progressed in their chosen discipline and returned to the work place, not only uninjured, but with a boosted enthusiasm and positive attitude.
Corporal Rachel Carpenter (pictured left) from the Band of the RAF Regiment headed off for a week of Nordic Skiing in Bavaria on Exercise Vixen Eagle. The unique environmental conditions of this region in Germany offer personnel a robust challenge to maintain peak performance in remote cold conditions, to be completely self-supportive and be exposed to physical risk.
A slight lack of snow made for tricky conditions, but the expert instructors worked around these limitations to deliver six days of Nordic Skiing tuition. By the end of the week, every group had made it up to the highest trail (with more than 400m of ascent over an 8-mile circuit) and enjoyed a well-earned Apfelstrudel at the mid-point café.
With most of the participants being new to Nordic Skiing, the first couple of days were spent learning the basic skills of how to move efficiently on the narrow skis and, more importantly, how to stop. A few slips and falls later, the group were up and moving in the specially made tracks around the park, often being overtaken by the local families out for their Sunday afternoon ski.
By the middle of the week, the basic skills were improving, and the groups were able to start tackling some of the more physically demanding aspects of the sport; heading up the hills started to test fitness levels as well as encouraging a strong team spirit to ensure everyone made it up safely and together.
The RAF instructors have strong links with the local German Ski School with some of the local instructors assisting throughout the week. This connection also provides participants with the opportunity to gain a Bronze award from the German Ski Scheme as well as a military qualification of Nordic Foundation Level One. One evening, the RAF hosted a civic reception with speeches from the Mayor of Zwiesel and the Exercise Leader in each other’s native languages. Gifts were exchanged, local tipples were sampled, and relationships fortified.
Senior Aircraftmen Steve Blythe and Emma Jones from the Central Band of the RAF travelled to Bavaria on 12 January to participate in the Snow Eagle Scheme. Snow Eagle takes approximately 36 RAF personnel per week (over 4 months) through Ski Foundation Levels. Training ranges from learning basic technique to off-piste work, avalanche detection and survival.
Both Steve and Emma completed the first level of training, Ski Foundation 1, which included basic techniques of snow plough, parallel turns and using pole plants to enhance turns. For Steve, it was his first experience of skiing, and although he started off spending a lot of time falling over, by the end of the week he was skiing confidently down red slopes, and even attempted a black run. Emma had skied before (11 years ago) and just like riding a bike, she was soon refining her technique with the help of expert tuition.
The trip was another great opportunity to meet personnel from other RAF trades and Stations around the UK, and a perfect chance to engage with them about RAF Music Services.
Both musicians are keen to return to Snow Eagle and participate in the next training levels, hoping they will come back to RAF Northolt in one piece again!
The RAF Alpine Championships take place annually in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria, and are a fantastic opportunity for over 800 RAF personnel to compete in ski and snowboard racing, and to take part in lessons delivered by qualified RAF instructors.
Ski-Champs, is not just open to experienced racers, but is inclusive of those who have never skied or snowboarded before. There are a variety of races to accommodate all abilities, from the Super-G Slalom, to Snowboard Boarder-X – and lots in between!
Upon arriving in Austria, it was clear that the weather conditions were going to be fantastic with bluebird days all week long. There were even comments of it being ‘too warm’, and a slight sense of disbelief when we saw some of the locals skiing in shorts and a t-shirt!
With the lesson groups confirmed, everyone headed off to explore the 300+km of pistes that Saalbach-Hinterglemm offers, learning from our instructors and getting to know one another. Tuition was intensive, with all groups heading out for full days of lessons on the slopes, meaning that there was a great deal of development throughout the week. Senior Aircraftman Chris Dennis, from the Band of the RAF College, also successfully completed the SkiCircus Challenge, which encompassed skiing over 65km of pistes in one day – no mean feat.
A few days later, it was time for the racing to begin. Chris represented RAFC Cranwell in the Inter-Station Giant Slalom, and despite a promising start on a challenging course, he unfortunately missed a gate in the final section which led to a did not finish result. On the other side of the mountain, Senior Aircraftman Emily Jenner, from the Band of the RAF Regiment, competed in the Improvers Giant Slalom (an event for novice skiers) – and achieved a 3rd place finish overall. Emily commented:
I am really pleased to have come 3rd, especially as this was only my second time attempting ski racing. It is quite scary lining up on the start gate and seeing all of the gates in between you and the finish, but we had great support from our instructors and lots of cheering from the spectators at the end!
Article & Photos by Corporal Rachel Carpenter, Senior Aircraftmen Stephen Blythe, Emily Jenner and Emma Jones
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