Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Kitching MBE, Chairman Alpine
The 2020 Inter-Service Alpine Championships were another huge success with some outstanding performances from the racers and single Service teams competing at this final alpine event in the military winter calendar. The weather did its utmost to play havoc with the race programme including heavy rain and unusually mild weather at a curious altitude. However, agile programming, some extremely hard work from the ESF and Hill team, and some generous flexibility from our Telemark colleagues enabled a full programme of races to be delivered; albeit with a shorter Downhill/Super G in lieu of a full Downhill. With the onset of the global pandemic curtailing the season, this was one of the final winter sports championship events of the year. Unfortunately, the British Championships in Tignes, due to be held at the start of April were cancelled as cases of COVID-19 escalated across Europe.
Otherwise ISSSC, this year, was no different from previous years with a seriously competitive, highly capable field and some superb courses testing the athletes to the hilt. Attempts to run speed training and the Airbus Downhill at the start of the week were thwarted by poor conditions. A bold correction was made early to delay the Downhill in the hope of being able to stage it towards the back of the week and the more technical events were brought forward. This paid dividends and whilst we were forced to run shorter speed events than usual, we managed the full race programme. The mix of rain and then heavy snow made for some testing conditions to keep the athletes on their toes… or should I say edges!
We are extremely fortunate in the world class facilities that Meribel offer and are privileged to have exclusive use of World Cup and Championship race pistes and support. This set up provides the perfect next step from the single Service Championships and is an appropriate test for the best skiers in the UK Armed Forces. The length complexity and pitch of the courses provide a perfect setting for the Service teams to battle it out. There is extremely limited room for error and even the top seed racers are not infallible.
A tumble on the Downhill, where speeds can reach up to 100 kph can be extremely serious but fortunately whilst there were a number of spectacular spills; there were fortunately no serious injuries. The netting half-way down the Stade seemed to have a magnetic attraction this year and witnessed a number of visitors. Perhaps the most spectacular moment was Ben Hollis’ unintentional 360-degree spin at high speed during Downhill Training. I am sure he would prefer it mentioned as an impromptu trick, but it more closely resembled the grace of ski ballet. Nevertheless, a slightly heart-stopping moment, for Ben included, and an impressive display of skill to recover mid-flight and complete the training run. Needless to say, the combined competition was highly competitive and closely fought with every stumble, fall or DNF being closely watched from the finish area in the hope of steeling a valuable march on the other Services. The final outcome saw the Army being crowned as Men’s Combined Team Champions and the RAF Ladies securing the Ladies Combined honours in a very close competition. Ladies Individual Combined Champion went to Cpl Rachel Hughes with Spr Duncan Kuwall securing the Men’s Individual Combined Title.
As ever, none of this would be possible without the continued support and dedication of the Méribel ESF. They delivered superb courses, world-class hill support and impressive agility for which we all remain extremely grateful. The conditions this year presented a greater challenge than usual, a significant change to the race programme, especially when the slopes are shared between Alpine and Telemark is no mean feat. Yannick and his team made it look seamless and, as ever, beavered away with a smile and in good humour. Their management of the congested programme on the Stade is impressive and ensures world class race support for every discipline. They are always conscious of minimising impact on the athletes; swiftly and smoothly transitioning several times daily, between Alpine and Telemark competitions, day and night races, a snowboard event and various Sponsor races – all taken in their stride and inimitable way. My sincere thanks to Yannick and his team for their unstinting support and advice; we are extremely sad not to be out there this year but hope to look forward to future seasons.
I am also extremely grateful to the Alpine Hill team for their unstinting efforts and professional approach. The initial early starts before daybreak in heavy rain were less pleasant than normal but fortunately rain gave way to heavy snow and then glorious conditions as the week progressed so we were able to enjoy the glorious sight of the sunrising over the mountains and the Meribel valley which we had become rather accustomed to, uninterrupted, over previous seasons. This year we say a fond farewell to our Alpine Chief of Race Cdr Richie Love who departs the Royal Navy for alpine pastures. We wish him all the very best and hope that some of this season is salvageable for his chalet enterprise. In his place we welcome Maj John Poole (JP) who is a well know face on the military alpine circuit and has been involved in the inter-services for several years.
In closing we wish the AFPST the very best of luck in their season and likewise to Brett Wilde (RN) and Gary Smith (RAF) who continue to guide Millie Knight and Kelly Gallagher respectively. We hope that they manage the full season and continue their successful run. Clearly it is extremely disappointing, but entirely understandable, that we are unable to run the ISSSC in Meribel in February 2021. In a faint glimmer of hope and challenge options and support are being scoped to host some indoor ISSSC races if restrictions and appetite allow. We will keep you posted on developments, but we hope that we might be able to deliver some racing of sorts to keep us going till next season. Beyond that we are all keeping our fingers firmly crossed that we can deliver a full alpine racing calendar for the 21/22 season.