56(R) Sqn Exercise Snow Eagle

Between 2–8 March 2014, eight members of 56(R) Sqn took part in Ex Snow Eagle on the German–Austrian border. Flying out from Stansted Airport, we arrived at Memmingen, Germany, where we were coached to Gundesreid and arrived at our accommodation; Alpenrose awaited!

Our accommodation consisted of a variety of rooms, ranging from three to six-man rooms, all en suite. Upon our arrival we were kitted out with everything required for our week’s skiing. In total, from across the RAF, there were twenty-four personnel at Gundesreid and twenty-four at Obersdorf. Personnel were split into three groups of eight, based on people’s declared abilities. Each day the groups were driven to predetermined   locations in either Germany or Austria to commence the day’s activities.

Day 1
This saw us in Balderschwang and blessed with excellent weather throughout the day. All personnel involved were dressed in blue jackets and black salopettes. Our first lesson was designed to brush up our skiing skills and see who had lied on their declaration of ability. By the afternoon, we all wished we had lied, as we ended up on the black runs. But before that, we practised the use of carving skis, with some surprising results; the gain of speed and control in comparison to the planks we were all familiar with was astonishing. The day did not end without drama; the first was me showing my ability to twist my knee that much more than should be possible; however, funniest was C/T Sean Webster causing the lift operator to fall off his chair in laughter, as he watched Sean exiting the chair lift with his rucksack on his back; unfortunately it was also caught on the lift! Having composed himself, the operator sounded the alarm, halting the other four hundred users, and preventing Sean from involuntarily descending back down the mountain. Competitive Ric Hands failed on every attempt to keep in formation, with a constant chanting of ‘I must win’ echoing in his head. Sean Webster decided to take him out and in spectacular fashion he achieved his aim, with Ric claiming that Sean had attempted to throw him off a cliff. The team building had begun!

Day 2
Day 2 moved to Bolsterlang.  The Germans had obviously decided the weather was too bad to hit the slopes, which was all the better for us, so advantage played and no queuing for the lifts. After a successful lead by Neil Glover, Sean took the helm and managed to ski us into an uncharted dense pine forest. Half crippled from my previous knee-twisting incident, I was only able to manage effective right turns; the team found it extremely funny watching me negotiate the trees and steep cliff edges, and following anyone in a blue jacket even if they weren’t part of our group. Still failing miserably to stay in formation, Ric once again nearly paid the price with
a near-death experience. Watched in amazement by the group, he hurtled along at mach 2 and lost control, dropping to one leg, losing the accompanying ski off a cliff edge and making a leap for survival back onto the piste, thus saving his bacon.

Day 3
Moving onto Ifen on the third day, Al Cameron started the day by delaying skiing by thirty minutes as a result of putting someone else’s skis into the wrong minibus. Weather was bad with poor visibility, but that was no  excuse; so regardless, blue runs were in order, once again practising our carving skills. As the weather improved, we progressed onto the red and then the black runs, followed by some questionable off-piste skiing.  Occasionally the team spotted Kev Ingram, our resident Aussie, flying past looking for members of his ski group. Snowboarders were the ‘demons’ of the day, causing mass avoidance as they lay five-wide across the piste. Crashes were inevitable and came true for two members of the public, as we witnessed their day cut short with a helicopter ride off the piste. Our instructor decided a lesson in avalanche awareness and snow-holing was in order; so snow density testing and ‘homes’ in the snow were taught along with post avalanche rescue techniques. This was followed by an excellent demonstration in the art of tree avoidance and how to climb out of a 6ft hole, as we witnessed the instructor gracefully descend backwards into a crater. Given the choice of route, I took the next lead directing the team down their first black run of the day. Soon I found myself sliding backwards  at a great rate of knots. Luck or determination ground me to a stop so I could continue my descent more gracefully. Having complained about his ill-fitting boots from the previous two days, Gary ‘Sweaty’ Settery’s new improved boots actually made no difference in his skiing performance, crashing out on countless occasions. Neil Glover stylishly demonstrated how to crash spectacularly uphill, unaided, and scattering his skis and poles all over the piste.

Day 4
Day 4 saw us back at Bolsterlang, with more emphasis being placed on the use of ski poles. During the day we found ourselves off-piste in plenty of ‘virgin’ snow, where their use was appreciated somewhat more. Glimpses of a blue jacket housing Kev Ingram still looking for his group were ever-present. Unfortunately, trees yet again became a nuisance with their magnetic appeal drawing Sean towards them, leading to him deciding that high-speed snowholing was more beneficial than attempting tree felling. Sean’s excellent pre-treeimpact- dismount snow-hole found him stuck in his own man-made hole. Yet again my crashing skills were put to test as I descended down towards the car park at high speed unaware of yet another steep drop. At full speed I encountered the slush, launching myself into the air, scattering my equipment over the piste. After a couple of  involuntary somersaults I landed in a muddy field some 30m away, laughing and unhurt.

Day 5 The last day
It must have been an all-out bank holiday for all nations as the resorts were packed. As we were declined entry at lots of the resort car parks, we regrouped and headed back to Ifen in Austria. We trudged to the ski slopes where it took over an hour to get to the summit. Rewarded by beautiful weather and excellent views, we began our consolidation day. This involved a packed lunch picnic off-piste followed by skiing on all grades of runs. Al and Kev finished off their last day in style by interlocking their bindings and crashing out of the T-Bar lift 20m short of the summit. The evening ended in laughter with Neil playing Kev some homely reminders: a variety Rolf Harris tunes, including Two Little Boys. The expedition was organised and delivered in a highly professional manner by 22 Gp FDTC personnel. Team work and comradeship was highly evident during the whole  week, with all members helping each other. Concern for each other’s wellbeing was a priority both on- and off-piste. Would I do it again? Without a doubt!

Sgt Rookie Rooke

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