EX LIONS CHALLENGE 2019

Lt Col Bee Smith R SIGNALS – Secretary Army Alpine

Having been spoilt last year by monumental amounts of snow, expectations were high as we arrived in Serre Chevalier to set up for the Army Alpine championships. However, conditions were nothing like the previous year, and a quick visit to both Ex PIPEDOWN and Ex SPARTAN HIKE on the way down showed that the resorts were battling with the opposite problem of trying to find enough snow to drill gates in to.

The snow canons were working overtime, and the immediate worry of whether there would be enough snow to anchor the safety netting either side of the Luc Alphand for the Army Downhill consumed the Officials’ minds. This year we were delighted to welcome the senior service in the shape of Lt Cdr Jez Spring RN, a newly qualified Services TD onto the team of officials. Also back from operations this year and promoted to Chairman was Col Hugh Campbell-Smith, although sadly for the last time, as Loan Service pay in Middle East trumps skiing for the next few years! A keen replacement has been found however, and Brigadier Jonathan Bartholomew – or Barty as he is known could not move any quicker to strap himself into a pair of skis and start learning the role in location.

The championships started on Tuesday 22 Jan as those who had qualified from the two Divisional exercises registered. We had 115 racers who had qualified for the Army championships, including a good number of first timers. It was noticeable how few teams were coming through, with the field being made up in the majority by individuals or pairs from unit teams. Most noticeably only one Infantry Team qualified and for the first time in recent memory, no RAC teams at all. This is something that the Alpine Committee are keen to address and work will continue with the Corps alpine committees to identify, progress, retain and support talent within combat arms units.

On a positive note, it was fantastic to see greater representation from the AAC and RMP. We were also joined by four members of the AFPST who competed for the first time this year rather than acted as fore runners.

Another change this year saw the sponsors and VIPs along with the hierarchy of the AWSA move down the road from Villeneuve into the Grand Hotel in Chantemerle. This closer proximity between those who enable our sport and those who benefit from it can only be seen as a good thing, and the interaction between racers, sponsors, VIPs and senior officers increased understanding and appreciation across the piece.

Sponsor suppers continued to be a popular event, and racers entertained groups of sponsors in their chalets in the evening, showing off culinary talent (or not) but all benefitting greatly from the experience. The sponsors also hosted the Team Captains for drinks in the Grand Hotel which was a popular event.

Once again, the village and the resort staff pulled out all the stops to prepare the pistes to an exceptionally high standard. Racing conditions were fantastic, and the GS Individual and Team events kicked the Championships off. Capt Hollie Suff from the ARRC Sp Bn dominated for the girls whilst Pte Rob Poth, from the RLC reserve won the men’s event. Hot on the heels of Capt Suff came a group of RA and RMP ladies and following up for the Men Spr Euan Kick (RE) and LCpl Hayden Grand (R SIGNALS). Last year’s champion, Spr Duncan Kuwall unfortunately came out of the GS on the first day, taking himself out of the combination competitions and the Junior competition – such is the way with ski racing. The team GS was won by a Hors Concours team of infantry, showing that the infantry has the skill – just not all in one regiment, leaving the trophy to be lifted by the first unit team – 6 RLC. Slalom took place over the weekend, and Capt Suff, Pte Poth and 6 RLC took first prize in their respective competitions. The veterans’ competition was hotly contested with newcomer Maj Andrew Crockett (AMS) giving old-timers Sgt Chris Bennett (REME) and Cpl Steve Jackson (RLC) a run for their money.

By the weekend, the committee, TD, ESF and Pisteurs were content that the iconic Piste Luc Alphand could be securely netted for the speed events, and with the end of racing each day came an effort of gargantuan proportions as several kilometres of netting was manhandled and drilled in the length of the piste by the racers under the guidance of the Pisteurs and committee. The first day of speed training claimed a few victims, including the current ladies Army Team captain, Capt Scarlett Geering RA, who fell on the infamous Pylon Jump and took herself out of the competition. Thankfully she was not seriously hurt but had to take the devastating decision to hand over the reins of captaincy for the Inter Services Snow Sports Competition (ISSSC).

As the two Downhill training days progressed, it became clear that there was going to be a mix up at the top of the seedings, as those with a penchant for speed started to challenge for the top spots. In an incredible close competition Lt Sophie Nicholls RA won for the Ladies. A special mention must go to LCpl Maddie Critchley (AGC(SPS)) who in her first ever year of racing came third and only 0.38 seconds behind the winner. Back on top of the podium for the boys was Spr Euan Kick from 3 RSME bringing back the type of skill and courage that had seen him victorious at last year’s ISSSC. In the team event, we again had a bizarre situation where the top three teams and four of the top six were Hors Concours teams from the Infantry and RAC.

The final event of Super G saw another mix around for the girls, with Pte May Percival (RLC), buoyed by her DH success blasting her way to victory, and securing a place on the Army Team. For the Men, Pte Poth beat Spr Kick into first place by just 0.09 seconds.

That evening at Prizegiving, the sponsors and VIPs sat amongst the racers for the first time, with each team or Corps hosting a group of VIPs. Team Captains of the Mens’ and Ladies’ Team for the ISSSC were announced and Capt Hollie Suff stepped up to Captain the Ladies after many years of competing as a team member. For the Men, the obvious choice was Lt Alex Wilson GREN GDS, who had nobly stood up and filled the position last year after the captain was casevaced from the ISSSC.