Barmy Army – Adventures at the British Ski Championships
Barmy Army – My adventures at the 2010 British Telemark Ski Championships
Take 80 fit guys from the British Army, (most in elite forces like commandoes or marines) in tight lycra ski race suits, a quaint Austrian alpine village, bars full of Jagermeister and German beer, and you have every single girls dream, (or nightmare) whichever way she is prone to look at it.
Recently, I entered the British and British Army Telemark Ski Championships held in Rauris Austria. A little unusual, given my minority status- I mean an Australian (with British Passport), a civilian, and a woman to be precise. Although this is a ‘civi’ event, it is run by the British Army as telemark and nordic skiing have long been important winter training endeavours for the British Army and maybe more than half of the British National Team ‘Team GB’ are either serving or retired military. If you don’t know what telemark skiing is, then follow this You Tube link to see how the pros do it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjjZoU_05P8
I got into telemark skiing sort of by necessity. After years of alpine skiing in Australia and overseas including living in the French Alps, I decided that upon returning to Australia, I needed something more challenging for the smaller ski slopes encountered there. I proved hopeless at snowboarding, and as the French ski hire shop I worked at hired them, I was able to try the sport out gratis, albeit the smallest boots they rented were 4 sizes too big for me.
I love telemarking in complement to alpine skiing, as it is so graceful and akin to ‘doing yoga on skis’. Like climbing, it’s quite spiritual…. ‘Free the heel, ski for real’ as the car sticker says. It’s also quite possibly the hardest sport on ones legs and back, as they take the burden of the loss of stability from freeing that heel.
There were three types of Telemark races at the event which were a combination of alpine style giant slalom (GS) gates and nordic style skating. The first (which I missed due to flight cancellations) was the straight GS gates. The second two involved both styles. 40 odd gates plus a hefty jump at the bottom to be landed in ‘telemark stance’. This followed by a lengthy skate leading to an uphill (yes uphill) finish. See the World Cup version here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz7ZMZDwmyc
Before you say it- yes, it’s crazy! And although it’s not an Olympic Sport yet, it probably will be by the 2014 Sochi, Russia Olympics.
My first race (ie. the second race) was a little hampered since I arrived a week after the others due to work commitments, so did not get any training in. In fact, the race course was my second run for the year on Telemark skis.
Nervous as hell, I told myself I just wanted to finish. It was great to see the National Team (who I had met at the trials in April), excelling in the race, having just participated in Rauris in the British hosted Telemark World Cup Race two days previously.
It was also reassuring to be in an atmosphere of encouragement around the event with people jeering the racers on as they tried to complete the final uphill athletic part of the course. Needless to say, puffing my guts out, I reached the finish line on both days, and pleased that I did. I felt a bit like Private Benjamin though, to say the least.
It wouldn’t be a complete blog if I didn’t mention that a big part of such an experience is the comraderie in the bar in the evenings. After the race presentations, things got, well a little less formal lets say. After days of wandering round seeing everyone in tight lycra, it was a relief to see them simply in a bar in normal clothes, even if they were pole dancing.
So, after three days of racing in my first British Telemark Ski Championships, it was with fond memories, new friends and two silver medals that I came home to London.
I must point out that the difference in the Women's and the Men's silver medals cannot be underestimated. Nor can the distance between myself and Sarah Hannibal, the female national team member who won. She kicks butt, and beat most of the men.
However, there was one person in particular who I had great pleasure meeting and I will certainly be looking out for in years to come. Little Olly Wotton, son of Team GB member Chris Wotton, who raced and won the Under 21s. He’s only 10 yrs old but came well in the top seed, only been racing telemarks for a number of weeks, not years and quite frankly the most amazing little skier and nicest kid to have spent some time meeting.
Good on you Olly, keep it up, you are well on your way. And I will see the rest of you next year I hope.