In late March, the University of London Officers’ Training Corps saw 45 students and 7 instructors take part in Exercise Cockney Snowhole 23, seeking to gain their Ski Foundation Level 1 and 2 qualifications. Arriving in the alpine village of Val Claret for six days of training, all the Officer Cadets were eager for the challenge that lay ahead.
The week started off with mild conditions on the pistes, with everyone tackling the first day with enthusiasm. The more experienced groups took to the slopes, traversing red and black runs, finding their ski legs and improving their technical ability for the demanding activities later in the week. Beginners with little experience of skiing embraced the challenge of attempting a completely new activity, practicing their snowplough turns and demonstrating great commitment on the green slopes, helping each other up when the falls naturally occurred, ready to go again.
On the third day, snowfall the night before and clear blue skies provided perfect conditions for training. Ski Foundation two groups were in the off-piste and touring phase of the course, particularly enjoying the challenge of navigating tracks and scaling mountain ridgelines, their progress rewarded with spectacular views of the valleys below. Further on in their training, they practiced avalanche safety drills: learning how to use transceivers and rescue skiers caught in avalanches. These simulated drills demonstrated the dangers of ski touring and how every second counts to preserve life. The Ski Foundation one groups had moved on to practicing parallel turns and pole planting, being pushed out of their comfort zones by the instructors to tackle more difficult blue and red routes in the final days of the exercise, their confidence and skill improving with each attempt.
Nearing the end of the exercise the weather conditions worsened, with some ski lifts closing early. Undeterred, groups of all ranges pushed on, eager to put their newly found skills up to the test. The poor conditions were an unfitting end to what had been an extraordinary week of skiing for all cadets.
The exercise was an overwhelming success. Thanks to the hard work of the instructors and staff, everyone pushed themselves further than they had originally thought possible, with almost all students achieving a Ski Foundation qualification. The Officer Cadets showed great teamwork and perseverance throughout the exercise, learning lessons and skills to take forward in their military and civilian lives.