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RAF SKI CHAMPS

IN JANUARY, TWENTY ONE PERSONNEL FROM RAF CONINGSBY HEADED OFF TO THE WINTERY, SNOWY SLOPES OF SAALBACH-HINTERGLEM, AUSTRIA, TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ANNUAL RAF SKI CHAMPS; AT LEAST THAT WAS THE PLAN!

Instead of seeing snow we were faced with a lot of green which continued the higher up we drove. The question that was on the everyone’s lips was ‘how can we bring home the bling if there are no races running?!’. Both skiers and boarders had an impressive collection of silverware from the 2013 Ski Champs and, having had some excellent opportunities at the Winter Training Camp, the boarders in particular were hoping to build on this success.

Thankfully even though there was a distinct lack of powder, Saalbach-Hinterglem had blasted the resort with snow cannons which had done a great job of making sure the pistes were in a “snowboardable” condition. With the temperature at a respectable 3 degrees and powered by pretzels, everybody headed off to explore the mountain – some to learn for the first time, some to enjoy being on skis or boards again and some keen to learn some seriously cool tricks ready for competitions later in the week.

Races commenced on our third day in resort and included a variety of different level Giant Slalom events as well as more specialist disciplines such as Super G and  Downhill for skiers and Slope Style and Boarder Cross for boarders. The competition for the 2014 Champs was extra challenging as the cream of the Australian Defence Force had joined the RAF in the race for medals.

Despite initial concerns about the weather, over the 2 weeks only 2 races were cancelled and we were lucky to have a total of 3 days of fresh snow, ensuring every day was skiable. We even had 2 rare days of beautiful powder to explore. Back on the piste, the conditions made it interesting for some of the Slalom races – the soft pisted powder got scraped off with each successive competitor to reveal the icy base below. For some of us novices (me!) it meant feeling confident on the powder for the first run, then getting cocky for the second more icy run and pushing it out a bit – only to fall over… lots. Thank heavens for impact shorts!

All eyes were on the Coningsby snowboarders in the Inter Stn Slalom, hoping to retain their title from last year. The competition was tough, with a number of Stations clocking some very speedy times. A nail biting finish – we thought we’d lost it to Brize, but the results revealed we did beat them, only to get pipped to the post by  Wittering! The team were placed second.

The Slope Style is one of, if not the best event to watch and this year was no exception. Backflips, 180s, truckdrivers and boardslides – all sorts of amazing tricks were performed in the park. SAC(T) Joe Mather impressed even the locals with his Rodeo 7 tail grab (corkscrew backflip, doing 2 complete rotations and grabbing the tail of his board). Amazingly even with that bag of tricks he only achieved second place – I cannot even begin to describe what the winner did!

All Coningsby boarders and skiers put in a fantastic performance for all the races, with 19 people competing in 36 races between them. By the end of the 2 weeks, we had dressed up for 2 fancy dress parties, won a total of 8 medals, and everyone had improved their level of skiing or boarding. For some the Champs is just a ‘warm up’ for the big event; Cpl Josh Rathbone, SAC(T) Joe Mather and SAC(T) Alex Gibson were selected to represent the RAF at Snowboarding in the Inter- Services. They shall be competing against the Army, Navy and the Australians in Meribel.

After all the fun, hard work and frolics, and personally snowboarding a distance of over 120 miles, it was time to take our aching bodies home. We packed up our bags and got ready to leave Austria. Just as what was to be a foot of snow started falling…

The RAF Ski Champs is open to all levels of skiers and boarders and provides an opportunity for people to learn these activities either for the first time, or to race against people at a similar level from across the RAF. The RAF Winter Sports Association also has other events throughout the year so if you are interested in getting involved, contact Flt Lt Laura Matthews for more details.

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