EXERCISE French Ski
Following months of planning from the legendary Sgt John Dowling the most ambitious Major Adventurous Training Exped that RAF Halton had ever attempted was about to commence.
To give some idea of the scale of this event, a week on the RAF winter EAGLE exercises that offer the same level of Ski training and qualification is half the size of this mammoth undertaking. The approval was largely down to the high calibre of Instructors that John had secured for this week to Tignes in what marked his departure from the RAF.
The participants arrived at 0600hrs (some still tired and emotional from the Christmas Draw at HHOM the previous night) and embarked on an epic coach journey with the enthusiastic Tony at the wheel. Little did he know that his desire to be ‘one of us’ would later lead to his downfall.
Some of the 50 or so places were filled by personnel at other units so the trip gave the opportunity for networking as well as for those at Halton to become better acquainted. With shared self catering apartments, barriers were quickly broken down – they had to be with bodies sleeping in the kitchen-diner. Many rooms revelled in cooking meals for each other and really went to town to create gourmet extravaganzas. The realities of communal living and shared facilities always created some entertainment whether with keys for rooms or the ski lockers. Many of the fitness gurus amongst us even found time to visit the local pool with Russ Keen doing his bit to aid diplomatic relations.
The rooms and groups gelled superbly with all throwing themselves into the training objectives that offered novices skiing skills and improved ability levels of those with some slope time. The first day brought blue ski skiing and once the group had been allocated to instructors, the contract setting and ice breakers (no pun intended) began. As it was out of season, the slopes were virtually empty and there were no lift queues. The different ability levels had targeted lessons throughout the week and all skiers were physically tested by our instructors.
Tignes is a picturesque area close to Val d’Isére, so the opportunity arose for some groups to see how the other half live and ski. To get there meant either a sedate bus journey or for the heroes, an Olympic black run – bragging rights to the heroes, along with the bruises. Thankfully there were no major injuries for any group and only the final day brought discomfort for several members. The snow was varied with great dumps allowing the winter survival training objectives to be demonstrated whilst the skiing time was reduced accordingly. All personnel improved their skiing ability and winter mountain confidence and are looking forward to the next opportunity to give the ski legs a work out.
But as everyone knows, the skiing is only as good as the Après and with a group this large the social had impact in what was a quiet time in resort. The highlight of the social endeavours had to be the fancy dress night which raised a few French eyebrows. It’s not often that 3 versions of Batman are seen running together through snow-covered streets nor is Chef from South Park often seen dancing in the Alps. Some very imaginative costumes led to costume envy resulting in a few changes throughout the night. A special thank you was received from the French Premier who appreciated the boost to the Euro, especially those who landed in a place of sustenance straight off the slopes and remained there all night – you know who you are!