Exercise Spartan Hike – Alpine 7 – 17 January 2012
Exercise Spartan Hike sees the Adventurous Training phrase ‘going out of one’s comfort zone’ and ‘physical courage’ taken to a new level. This year, 7 OCdts and the Adjutant had the pleasure of racing down a series of Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super G and Downhill courses in the French Ski Resort of Serre Chevalier.
With weather and snow conditions perfect the whole week the team were confident of coming away with some silverware. Personally I had no race experience; however I had a lot of all mountain ski experience. This was something that a couple of members of the group did not have, and as complete novices in the sport of skiing OCdts Rebecca Johnson and Hattie Holiday showed no fear in tackling each of the race courses set before them. With 125 competitors we knew the competition would be tough, with TA and Regular regiments coming from the UK and a couple from Germany.
Morale was high in the OUOTC team after winning the team event at the Gunner Championships in Alpe D’Huez; however this was a big step up in competition. Under our inspirational team captain, the Adjutant (Capt Edward Hodgskin), we all went into the first race, the seeding GS, high on confidence. Course inspections in such races are pivotal to understanding where each gate lies and where to get the best line through the course.
Something I have never experienced before is the feeling of standing in the start gate before you are about to go down, the mixture of pure adrenaline, nerves and excitement. This was especially prevalent when it came to the Downhill where you can reach speeds of over 65mph on many sections of the course. In all disciplines as soon as you are out the start gate it takes a bit of time to actually realise where you and what you are doing.
There was a real mixture of racers from complete novices to skiers who had done 10 seasons of ski racing. The Team GS saw the OUOTC just come outside the top 3 in 4th place. This was a solid team run, with my 14th place and the other 2 counted skiers, OCdt Gray and Capt Hodgskin, coming in the top 25. The next day saw the Individual GS and a chance to really go for it. This was a longer course to the previous one, far more technical, however some fantastic results were had. OCdt Lilidh Matthews was the top lady, with OCdt Victoria Madeley coming 2nd lady. Special mention must go to OCdt Rebecca Johnson who finished her first race. All of the male skiers including OCdt George Offer came in the top 15, a result that would have got us 2nd place if the team race was on this day! I managed to sneak in the Top 10 with a 7th place, one of my aims pre race.
The next day saw another Blue Bird day with not a cloud to be had in the sky and the racers ready to tackle the Super G course. This discipline sees fewer gates than the GS, and more speed. The faster the event, the longer the skies are that you use. Again there were some cracking results here with OCdt Madeley winning the 2nd fastest lady medal, and again a good team performance as we came in 3rd. Personally another pleasing day with a 10th place finish. Unfortunately 2 members of our group however took ill; OCdts Matthews and Johnson were unable to ski again and had to take the trip back to the UK. We wish them all the best in their recoveries.
Next we had the Downhill, a discipline that really tests both mental and physical strength. A slight mistake going at speed can have massive ramifications as unfortunately I was to find out. 2 training days for this were given to racers to get used to the huge speeds and pressures that you would face on the course. There are of course very few gates, some steep faces and large rollers to negotiate. The 2nd of the training days was timed and it was good to see where people were placed within the field. Often you can get some inexperienced skiers who have a lot of guts in this event that can do really well. The Downhill race day proper saw everyone very much in the zone pre race. I was buoyed by a 5th place finish the previous day in the training downhill run and very much wanted to give it all for a higher placing. Seeded 1st I left the start gate very much pumped up for a strong run. At the bottom of the first wall however, after feeling great throughout the top section of the course, I was carrying more speed than I thought and caught a lot of air. Unfortunately I lost my balance in the air and came a cropper. To this day I still cannot believe that I did not sustain a serious injury, but the injuries I suffer were enough to put me out of skiing for a month. I managed to get up and finish the course, predominantly on the one ski, and carried on straight to the Medical Centre. I was gutted, simple as. I felt I was really getting into the racing aspect and was getting some really good results. I had qualified well for the Army Championships being held the next valley over the following week, only for that to be swiped away with one bad fall. I don’t regret my aggression in the race one bit as it is such a fine balance between safety and danger in racing, and in order to do well you have to go firmly out that safety zone. The rest of the team however did really well. OCdt Madeley won the Best Lady, one of her pre exercise ambitions, something that would make her father, a previous Army Downhill Champion, very proud indeed. OCdt Gray came in 12th, with the team finishing in 6th.
On the final day it came down to the Slalom. This sees a much shorter course set out with gates very close to each other. This is a very technical discipline that takes utmost concentration throughout. Again it was OCdt Madeley to the fore who picked up her 4th Medal of the week, coming in 2nd lady overall in the individual. Special mention must also go to OCdt Hattie Holiday who came in 53rd position, especially after being seeded nearly 30 places above that, and the fact she had barely skied before the exercise. With a very much depleted team, and only 5 actual skiers remaining, OUOTC managed a 4th place.
Overall the week was such a fantastic experience for all involved. OCdt Madeley came away with the Top Lady for the Alpine Combination, a fantastic achievement. Although not coming away with any silverware, (OUOTC finishing in 4thplace in 4 Div), the team as a whole learnt a lot and really bonded. It was both unfortunate and unlucky with the number of injuries sustained however morale was always kept high,
with the Adjutant fantastic at keeping on top of the nonstop admin. I cannot reiterate enough what a fantastic opportunity this is for anyone involved with OUOTC. Even if you have limited skiing experience it is amazing how quickly you will pick racing up, and how addictive that feeling of adrenaline is as you descend each course.
I would like to extend both mine and the team’s utmost thanks to all who made this whole Exercise possible. I hope that OCdts in the years to come can have the same fantastic opportunities presented to us in Spartan Hike 2012.
OUOTC Spartan Hike Team 2012:
Capt Edward Hodgskin – Team Captain
OCdt Matthew Waterston
OCdt James Gray
OCdt George Offer
OCdt Victoria Madeley
OCdt Hattie Holiday
OCdt Lilidh Matthews
OCdt Rebecca Johnson