On a crisp Friday morning, when most were contemplating their weekend plans, Gunners from across the UK prepared to embark east to the Austrian Alps; plans more exciting than most soldiers from 105 Regt, 101 Regt and 4 Regt RA departed from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland on Ex FINN TARTAN SKI.
On assembly at Folkstone camp, a convoy of seven combi-vans prepared for the 1400 mile round, trip through six countries. Throughout this never-ending journey south, a bespoke Twitter account (#Cayman7) was utilised to deliver a running commentary of the expedition commencing from our base locations. This gave our sponsors and followers an ideal opportunity to track our progress and help entice potential new joiners into the Army Reserves. Without the fantastic support of the Ulysses Trust, Lt Colonel Dougie Peters (ATG(N), 38 Irish Bde, 51 (Inf) Bde and Regimental Funding, simply, this expedition would not have been conducted in the current financial climate. This expedition has definitely provided a retention positive experience for all participants testing our planning, navigation throughout Europe, and physical stamina in arduous conditions in Austria.
The Skiers arrived at a Military camp in the snow-clad mountains of Austria, eager to begin their SF1 and SF2 courses and to commence the action phase of the exercise – time on slopes the following morning. Following a hive of activity everyone and a hearty continental style breakfast. All troops were issued with new skis and equipment that had been purchased through an Army Welfare Fund grant to 105 Regt RA. This equipment massively reduced our charge hire-costs and enabled a very cost effective manner.
The first day of the course saw a half days skiing in the resort of Sonnenkopf. For some, an easy run in for their new boots; for others, an afternoon spent horizontal. The afternoon was used to identify ability, or to regain familiarity for previous skiers. The weather however, left some to be desired. Visibility was reduced to nothing short of an arms-length. For the beginners, this no doubt made for a more challenging ski – the inability to identify obstacles did little to reassure! For all, however, sore legs awaited as even the more experienced participants found their ski legs. A successful day and only one trip to the hospital required.
Que the next day. Through the initial doubt shone the sun, revealing the beautiful surrounds of Western Austria. The vast slopes and runs of St. Anton awaited. The groups were divided to reflect their ability. This ranged from Bambi on ice, to those with no sense of self-preservation. For the most part, the expedition was to introduce the vast majority of attendee’s to skiing. These groups pursued the Ski Foundation 1 (SF1) qualification, where the more advanced group trained for Ski Foundation 2 (SF2) – led by the charismatic Flt Lt Dave Glover. No end of laughs were had.
The following days showed a great deal of skiing (and falling) both in St Anton and Lech. One of the group progressed from nursery slopes, to the world famous Schindlerkar, off piste ski route. A particular favourite of the more experienced groups was the famous 24 Km ‘White Circle’ route, which traversed the resort at Lech.
Naturally the local culture in the resort towns of St Anton and Lech were studied fastidiously – most notably the ‘Moose’ Après bar, where the group sampled the vibrant night life of the skiing scene.
Through the course of the following days the groups progressed from basic ‘snow ploughs’ to increasingly more advanced manoeuvres. The final day saw some excellent skiing, and the one of the SF1 groups’ exposure to their first black run; one of the steepest in the resort, at 70% inclines. There was time yet at the end of the day for a series of presentations: for the most improved skier, and best male and female.
For all involved in the expedition, Ex FINN TARTAN SKI offered the unique chance to rise to a challenge, undertaking an exciting and arduous sport. For most this was their first encounter skiing. Certainly this was an opportunity for test themselves in a manner which neither the Army, nor their civilian employers has asked from them previously. Reservist or not, all participants benefited a great deal from the expedition.
The expedition culminated in virtually all participants attaining a skiing qualification. A genuine and most grateful thanks must go to all the sponsors of the expedition. In addition, a massive thank you to all the instructors involved. All things considered, with [almost] optimal conditions throughout, the Expedition was a resounding success, leaving even the most sceptical desperately wanting to return next year.
Expedition Leader – Major Carlos Hamlet MBE RA
Second In Command – WO2 Gary Irvine
Author: Lt Elliot Honeyman RA