During the Easter break a group of five UVI Form pupils and one CCF Officer from Bradfield College CCF travelled to the Pyrenees to participate in an introductory week of alpine ski touring. The aim of the trip was to build upon skills learnt on a Nordic Ski Expedition to Norway 12 months previous and to learn alpine ski touring techniques. The week would culminate in a short hut to hut ski expedition. Planning for the expedition went smoothly and we successfully obtain all the specialists skis and equipment from the MOD Loan Pool Store at Bicester, enabling us to arrive in France fully equipped and ready to train. A grant from the Ulysses Trust helped immensely with the funding and allowed the group to have a full day’s technique training at a downhill ski resort and ensured the use of mountain huts was a viable option for the expedition.
Alpine ski touring uses a specialist ski binding that allows you to combine downhill skiing techniques with the ability to walk uphill on skis. Our group quickly drew comparisons with our cross country equipment used on our previous trip and realised the strengths and weakness of both types of equipment. Our base for the week was a small lodge on the French side of the Pyrenees, but during the week we frequently crossed over the border, skiing in both France and Spain. The first three days were used as an introduction to alpine touring; the first day we skied up then down a local peak which was both exhausting and exhilarating. Day 2 was spent at a ski resort improving our downhill technique and day 3 we did a superb ski tour, taking in a peak before skiing down on some of the most glorious snow that any of us had ever skied on.
Due to the high amounts of snow, several roads normally open at this time of year were still closed and this meant that plans for our expeditions had to be altered as the ski into the huts had now been extended. Despite this we had a very successful expedition into the high mountain region with some breath taking scenery, overnighting at the Refuge de Colomers 2135m and the Xalet Refuge in Salardu. Throughout the week our ski technique developed immensely as did our mountain skills and awareness. In addition to the skiing we also learnt a great deal about teamwork, leadership and self reliance. For all of us it was the most challenging skiing we had ever undertaken and we returned to the UK with some fantastic memories that will remain long after our aching limbs have recovered. We are sincerely appreciative for the support of both the MOD and Ulysses Trust in making this unique trip possible – it was a remarkable experience.