Morzine Mountain Biking Expedition – Report 1 (Pte Qureshi)
After a challenging annual camp in Lydd, 18 officer cadets and staff headed to Morzine for a week of mountain biking in the French alps. This provided a unique opportunity to further test the officer cadets both physically and mentally; needless to say both objectives were well and truly achieved.
The first day was spent bringing everyone up to speed, setting training objectives, safety briefs and kit issuing. Once everyone had been sized up, and fitted with the correct equipment, we were split in to three groups depending on experience. This included a ‘novice’ group, one for ‘beginners’ who had some prior biking experience, and a self-proclaimed ‘ninja’ group who certainly were not lacking in any confidence.
As the afternoon rolled in we wasted no time and headed straight for the Super Morzine lifts, as a novice I was completely unaware of the pain that was to follow. Getting to grips with the dynamics of mountain biking proved extremely challenging on my first outing and I spent a significant amount of time testing the effectiveness of the safety equipment.
After a good night’s rest, the second day proved to be extremely fruitful. After a quick reminder on ‘attack positions’ to reinforce the evening brief, we headed back to the trails and routes of the previous day. Yesterday’s blue routes seemed to flow much easier, and even the novice group managed to get a few sections of red in to build confidence. We were particularly fortunate coming to Morzine, as it offered a huge variety of biking options for all competencies. This meant the instructors were able to continuously keep us challenged and out of our comfort zones.
On the third day we mainly rode in the vicinity of Les Gets, which offered up large sweeping berms and many more theatrical falls. Yesterday’s brief covered the technicalities when taking a turn and how best to distribute weight whilst turning. Having been filled with confidence from the previous day I soon found out I had a lot more work to do and with the introduction of new techniques and coaching this only added to the challenges posed to the group. Along with the harsh terrain the challenge for some was simply staying on the bike. However, the safety equipment provided was a must and helped to take away the fear of falling off, allowing us to continue to develop the skills being taught. Despite these small mishaps the third day saw vast improvements all around, with the smoother routes of Les Gets fairing much better under our hard-tail bikes. It was evident to see everyone was starting to pick up speed, and red routes seemed to become more and more enjoyable.
On our fourth and fifth day of mountain biking all three groups merged and spent the final days really putting the whole weeks tuition into practice. The improvement, ability and difference in individual’s mountain biking from the first day was evident, completing trails and routes that were struggled on previously with ease. We certainly made the most of this, with the fourth and the final day flowing for us all and with the odd stop been made for a picture or two with a scenic backdrop this made for a very enjoyable last few days. Regardless of ability, the levels of engagement and personal achievement experienced on this trip, were a testament to the outstanding professionalism and proficiency of the tuition.
After an extremely rewarding week of mountain biking the group spent the final day white water rafting, which a few small cliff jumps to really get the adrenaline pumping. The final evening also involved going for a meal in a lovely local restaurant, which also gave an opportunity for the team chef to have an evening off, having worked tirelessly all week to ensure everyone’s nutritional needs were met. It was evident to see the gratitude around the table for all the hard work that had been put into this Expedition.
On a personal note, having no experience of mountain biking whatsoever, this week proved to be extremely difficult. There didn’t seem to be any occasion where I was in my comfort zone, far from it, however despite that fact I can say with 100% certainty I will be doing this again in the near future.
Morzine Mountain Biking Expedition – Report 2 (OCdt Curtis)
After an overnight ferry from Hull and a twelve-hour drive through The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, eighteen officer cadets and training staff arrived safely in Morzine in the French Alps. We would be staying here for a week of intense, action-packed mountain bike training. The expedition aim was to challenge all of the officer cadets and to push them out of their comfort zones, irrespective of their personal biking capability.
We woke early on Sunday morning to picturesque views of the surrounding mountains illuminated by the sunrise; later that day we would be mountain biking down these slopes. Everybody was excited yet nervous to get going. But before we descended upon the biking trials, protective clothing and equipment was issued, including the all-important mountain bikes. We were then split into three groups depending on our mountain biking experience and ability; there was a Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced group, each lead by a different member of staff.
After everyone’s equipment had been checked we left the chalet and cycled down into Morzine for our first session of learning to use the ski lifts, and of course our mountain bikes. First, the instructors gave us some tips about body positioning on the bikes and how to use the brakes effectively when going down steep descents. Once we were all happy with the advice, we cracked on with some nearby blue routes to get a feel for the terrain. After two hours of riding blue routes and becoming more comfortable with the bikes, we headed back in for lunch. Feeling rejuvenated from food we spent the afternoon exploring more blue routes and headed over to Les Gets where we enjoyed the sweeping berms and coaching park. The mental concentration required when mountain biking, and the physical demands imposed, came as a shock to everyone.
Day two involved taking lots of pictures of the mountainous backdrop, and exploring more blue trails and even some red trails in Morzine and Les Gets. Everyone enjoyed using the ski lifts, not only to avoid cycling up the steep mountains, but also to give our bodies a needed break from the gruelling riding, especially on our hands which were already starting to blister. The group morale was always high (even when people fell off) and plenty of jokes were always being made; there was never a dull moment! In the afternoon we went back out in the sunshine and smashed lots of the previous routes. Experience and our growing ability at controlling our bikes meant that our speeds increased and ‘style’ improved rapidly. The number of falls dropped and all of us felt much more confident to try new, more technical routes in the morning.
On the morning of day three the groups went back out bright and early, keen to get going. My group planned the routes we would do that morning, including a trail called ‘Red 25’. Little did we know how technical this trail was or indeed how much of a test this would be. Within fifteen minutes of attempting to go down this steep and rocky track, we had all fallen off at some stage or another, with some of the falls being pretty spectacular! However, this was all under the Instructors control, ensuring we didn’t go to fast and he would stop to coach and teach us on the more difficult sections of the trail. So in true army style, we cracked on and all helped each other over the terrain and if needed pushing our bikes over difficult sections. This was definitely the biggest test we had faced so far and all of us had certainly been challenged and slightly shaken, but still in one piece and determined to give it our best shot.
The team spirit and comradery kept us all positive and soon we met up with the Beginners group. Now in one larger group we went back down the blue routes we had all done before to restore our confidence. It was great fun to be part of a larger group and to see the Beginners group really improve their skills and get faster on the descents, keeping up with the Intermediate group. Later we went to Super Morzine where a new set of mountains and trails awaited us. This was by far the best session of biking we had all done, and despite a shaky morning, we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon!
Wednesday morning involved all the groups going back out to Super Morzine, becoming more and more familiar with the routes and always increasing their speed and skill. Everyone was in high spirits, loving the trails and encouraging each other to do better; even people who had never mountain biked before were flying down the descents and really getting stuck in! It was great to be with such amazing people.
The next morning, we went back out for our last day of mountain biking. All the groups were doing red routes with ease, which we wouldn’t dared of attempted at the beginning of the trip. We even attempted the dreaded “Red 25” again, which the whole group seemed anxious about but after setting off we all seemed to get down it with no falls, no stopping and it seemed to feel more like a blue. We all agreed how different it felt at the bottom and we could see how far our coaching and instruction had come, which was a great sense of achievement. The advanced group also went to a new area of trails and really pushed themselves to do some new difficult routes. This was a brilliant day with which to end our mountain biking experience. On Friday, the whole group reunited to complete a team-building exercise of white water rafting, which was a first-time experience for many of the cadets and a perfect way to end the week.
Personally, I found this trip so exciting and rewarding, and I have really improved my mountain biking ability; I will definitely be doing more mountain biking at home and with the NUOTC in the future. Not only this, but I have met some amazing people and it’s safe to say that everyone had a great time, on and off the bikes!