DIAMOND BLADES 17 – 23 March 2012
For an XI Sqn exped you would be mistaken for thinking that the majority would be XI Sqn personnel, however not in this case. A few of the finest that XI Sqn had to offer were joined by their mates from all over camp; TMU, 3(F) Sqn and GDT to name but a few.
At 0100 on Saturday 17 March, 22 eager young (and old) Coningsby personnel braved the obligatory MT faff and mandatory 2 hour journey fitted into 6 hours to depart for Garmish-Partenkirchen, in the Bavarian mountains of Germany, to spend a week skiing.
After an exhausting trip to Germany, we finally arrived at our destination. Once again our American friends came to the rescue, providing us with all the equipment we needed for the week ahead. Thank you should go to Cpl Martin O’Hara MBE at this stage for his fantastic admin skills and efforts to save money when locating the cheapest helmets the Bavarian mountains have to offer. The following day, being well-rested having ignored St Patrick’s day in the Irish Bar and the close of the 6 Nations, our intrepid crew arrived bright and early at the slopes of Hausberg.
Having split the beginners to their own group, all those that thought they could ski were immediately segregated and interrogated on their abilities, before the ski-off ensued. It quickly became apparent that some were rustier than others and the forthcoming winter-Olympic team may be short this year! Safe to say only 3 of 10 qualified for the advanced group, the rest took their rightful place as intermediates under the safe tuition of Sqn Ldr Gordon Hall. Cpl Lance McMahon was seen grinning when he skied into the sunset with the advanced group, whilst Sgt Lou Carter had the unenviable task of tutoring the novices, bringing them from zero to hero in a week.
At the end of day 2, ‘Bambi On Ice’ was cancelled with only one injury, an oversized big-toe. The intermediates had lost a man, Cpl Ryan Baxter, to the advanced group, having lied about his previous experience he was ousted as a closet snow-boarder. The advanced group continued to be smug as ever. Unfortunately at this early stage SAC Matt Dennis had to retire from the sport of skiing however it is hoped he will be seen on a slope again soon.
Day 3 took everyone to the highest point in Germany, the Zugspitze Mountain to chase the better snow on the glacier. As it turned out the weather was not in our favour and all chaos ensued in the white out conditions. SAC(T) Karina Fernandez was caught out by the terrible conditions and found herself limping down the mountain following a nasty fall and a twisted ankle. Unfortunately this meant she missed out on the next 2 days of skiing. That evening our illustrious leader Flt Lt Guy Lockwood graced us with his presence, jetting in from the UK, raising our spirits and imparting his knowledge both of skiing and the local area!
Following the less than ideal weather conditions of Day 3 it was decided that the exped would split for Day 4, ensuring everyone’s abilities were catered for, however with all good weather reports issued by John Kettley, it was total rubbish seeing ideal skiing conditions and powder at the top of the Zugspitze. Having lost time on Day 3 by taking the very scenic but very slow train up the mountain, the intermediate and advanced groups took the cable-cart to the peak, whilst the beginners returned to the trusty slopes of Hausberg, sadly cursing the met office. Another advancement took place this day seeing SAC Ross Walker promoted due to his fearless speed and prowess, attacking every slope offered to him, he was sorely missed by the intermediate group.
Re-grouping on Day 5 the intermediate and advanced group were immediately impressed by the massive improvement of the beginners, showing off their skills and teaching us a thing or two. That said, spatial awareness was not everyone’s forté, rules of the slopes were re-taught with a few choice words and for what some lacked in technique they certainly made up for in speed. It wouldn’t be fair to end this day without mentioning the immortal line of Sqn Ldr Gordon Hall when a certain XI Sqn JEngO (Flt Lt Sarah Waghorn) found herself at the top of the black, World Championship and Olympic, Kandahar slope. Whilst carefully assessing the slope from the safety of the top, the phrase ‘imagine Kandahar airfield is under attack and the SACs are looking to you for inspiration … What are you going to do?’ was shouted, luckily this was caught on camera for all to hear, and enjoyed in that evening’s debrief!
Day 6 and we all returned for the final time to the top of Germany ready to demonstrate all the skills we had learnt and be assessed for the Ski Foundation Level 1 Award (SF1). SF1 requires you to demonstrate controlled turns and emergency stops utilising the plough technique. The week aimed to teach those who were beginners the basics of skiing, whilst further advancing the skiing ability of those with more experience. This is the first step towards becoming a ski instructor.
Awards in hand and with Karina having mastered the art of the parallel turn the groups were re-shuffled to better reflect our new found abilities. Some people were taken from the beginner group to the advanced group-SAC Jake Tharratt come on down! Whilst others found themselves in more suitable company – Cpl Brett Poppleton – or is that driving Miss Daisy?! Lucky for Brett, Cpl Matt Wood made him look positively Olympic as he traversed the mountain slopes.
With the individuals of Group B taking a lesson from the legendry Eddie the Eagle school of jumping, they demonstrated all they had to offer in the terrain park of the Zugspitze. Cpl Mick Davies landing the most impressive jump of the day and SAC(T) Shane Law showing no fear or sadly ability when it came to landing!
All too soon the last day was upon us and we all found ourselves fatigued but still keen to make the most of the last hours on the slopes. Mindful of not becoming a ‘last day’ statistic, the groups were once again re-shuffled to take account of everyone’s final day ambitions. Most beginners tackled a black run, demonstrating how far their skiing had progressed.
As you can hopefully tell by reading this we all had an enjoyable and fulfilling week on exped. We were all put through our paces, instructors included, finding out our collective and individual strengths and weaknesses. On behalf of everyone involved we would like to pass huge thanks on to all the instructors, without whose efforts and patience the exped wouldn’t have been such a massive success. We hope we speak for everyone when we say we all achieved our goals, not only improving our ability to ski but also learning more about the RAF and the other trades beyond our own. Adventurous Training is hard-work, often overlooked but good fun. Individuals and sections will only benefit and we encourage line managers to release people to expeds and individuals to volunteer to organise and take-part in them.