Page 13 - 2016 AMA Autumn
P. 13

                                   Ridge traverse during the Ecrins 2016 skimo race Ridge descent during the Ecrins 2016 skimo race
(3480m) above Zermatt for some final acclimatisation. We had the runs to ourselves the next morning as we descended into Zermatt and returned to our base at Fiesch for a rest day on 20 April.
Moving to Zermatt on 21 April for the final preparations before the event we were informed that the start would be pushed back by 24 hours due to poor weather and snow conditions along the course. Not only did this allow for more retail therapy (not that we needed more) but also additional rest and time to fine tune equipment. Overnight and in the morning we started to hear rumours of avalanche issues out on the course which would endanger competitors and the Swiss Army outposts and indeed these were confirmed when the organisers reluctantly decided to cancel both the short and long events. This was a bitter disap- pointment after the months of preparation and training, but the conditions on the course gave the organisers no other choice. So we packed up and made our way back to Fiesch.
But then we had an idea......
We had targeted the Trophee des Haut-Forts skimo race in Avoriaz on 24 April as a possible build-up race for the PdG but the dates clashed and we quickly discounted it. After some on the hoof planning (we had to enter via a website while returning to Fiesch!) we decided to drive to Morzine and stay overnight ready for the race the next morning. Unfortunately, Mel had to return to the UK so we talked Matt Hickey, a US Army Capt, into joining us. Rain turned to snow overnight which freshened up the course but also introduced some risk and so the course was shortened slightly. After a mass charge across a snowy field in race boots we were soon into our stride over what turned out to be a challenging but enjoyable course with many transitions and several boot-ups. Having prepared for a 13-hour slog on the PdG and been disap- pointed with its cancellation we released our pent-up energy and achieved a decent placing in the senior race. The finish was high above the start so after a semi-competitive descent it was time for the prize giving, meal and raffle, which the locals managed to string out over the rest of the day. Competitors were presented with a traditional French folding knife at the finish (even the children!) and herded reluctantly to the mountainous buffet lunch complete with free wine – or we assumed it was free! We didn’t have the same luck on the post-race raffle (not sure how we would get the TV or the legs of ham home on flights) but came away having experienced a great local race which partly made up for the cancellation of the PdG.
Looking back on the exped, the major challenges were the physical effort of the build-up races and the organisation of the training phase as a whole in terms of determining the best locations and routes for the preparation bearing in mind the predicted weather conditions and avalanche risk. The plan did not survive contact on quite a few occasions but the teams pulled together and ensured that we were trained for the event to the best of our ability.
A number of benefits resulted from the exped; excellent integration and collaboration between Reserve and Regular personnel; the Swiss organisers were impressed and appreciative of our involvement and we forged links with other nations; we established a clear vision for British Military participation in international skimo races and are well placed for competitions next season; specialist skimo race equipment has been acquired that can be used by whoever wants to compete; and we explored the organisational and funding arrangements for the next PdG in 2018 and future skimo races in terms of team selection and organisational respon- sibilities.
We are very grateful to the AMA for the grant that we received for this expedition.
Here’s looking forward to more skimo racing and the next PdG in 2018!
Steep ascent during the Ecrins 2016 skimo race

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