A week full of hard work, fun and snow started and ended with an epic 30 hour journey across central Europe, before reaching the small town of Mittersill, Austria.
The members of the expedition were split into several groups according to their ability and level of experience: the beginners (non skiers) group spent most of their week learning the basics, from learning how to bind up your boots and put on your skis at the very beginning of the week to parallel turns and eventually a basic introduction to ski touring and avalanche drills. The progress that was demonstrated by the whole group incorporated the definition of Adventure Training perfectly, ranks coming together to achieve mutual goals, face fears and physical challenges – their aim was to pass the Ski Foundation 1 (SF1) assessment and acquire a basic skiing qualification.
There was also a group which was designed to allow the less confident and proficient skiers to hone their abilities and experience before moving onto the second qualification Ski Foundation 2 (SF2). This group again saw massive improvements from the start of the six days to the end, progressing from blue slopes to reds and blacks and finally ski touring through the untouched deep snow away from the pistes and distractions of the general skiing population.
For the more experienced and confident skiers there was the second level qualification Ski Foundation 2 (SF2) to be gained. The SF2 encompasses a wide variety of skills that needed to be built on and expanded upon from SF1. A number of the group had a wealth of experience in touring and cross country skiing respectively but had very little experience of alpine skiing and had no official qualification. This knowledge proved to be of great help to the rest of the group. The first three days of our six in the glorious Austrian mountains were hindered by heavy snow fall and low cloud. This made our primary objective of advancing our touring experience too dangerous with the risk of avalanche and navigation difficulties proving too much. However, it did allow the group to progress their skills in piste navigation and awareness whilst operating in challenging conditions and dealing with fresh deep snow as the group ventured off the side of the piste under the watchful eye of the instructor. Once the clouds and the snowfall had cleared the group was able to return to what the trip for them was all about, advancing touring techniques and drills when working off piste and away from immediate help.
Once soldiers are SF2 qualified they are able to ski in smaller groups without the supervision of an instructor. A small group took full advantage of this and went on a 2 peak trek through the back country on the final day. It incorporated all of the skills which had been learnt throughout the week, applying skins (an adhesive layer of material attached to the base of the ski with fine fabric hairs pointing one way, preventing skis slipping whilst climbing uphill) the group climbed over 1000m, through forest and open hillside to a narrow ridge which led to the summit of the Stuckkogel (1888m) before an all too short blast down through the deep powder to the base of peak two, and the less daunting re-ascent to the top of Hochetzkogel (1738m). It was lucky that two such experienced skiers were leading the group because on the route back to the link up at the start point, at Oberaurach, a heavily wooded and steep ravine which ran between two peaks provided a final obstacle to be conquered. At points it became so steep that members of the group resorted to using upper branches of the trees as supports. Not everyone had such an arduous last day – the other groups split off and friends of different levels skied together for the first time which provided a great sense of achievement and camaraderie for the whole expedition.
The aim of the expedition was to develop leadership, courage, team spirit, fitness and the qualities necessary to enhance the performance of the students, especially those that are due to be mobilised and encourage retention and recruitment. These aims were achieved despite the bad weather at times, which brought out the qualities of discipline and the determination to succeed: these are the types of qualities which increased all the members operational effectiveness overall.