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December, 2017

Southampton University Training Corps Winter Challenge

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In December 2017, a group of officer cadets from Southampton University Officer Training Corps (SUOTC) took part in a skiing exercise in the French alpine resort of Tignes alongside similar contingents from Bristol UOTC and Aberdeen UOTC. The aim of the exercise was to qualify Officer Cadets (OCdts) in either Ski Foundation 1 or 2, with SF1 being assessing basic downhill ski technique and SF2 assessing more advanced downhill skiing, avalanche awareness, search and rescue and an introduction to ski touring, the Army’s ultimate skiing objective. The exercise comprised of OCdts of all abilities, from complete beginner to expert, and provided all with suitable challenges for their ability level.

The challenges presented by an undertaking of such scale and complexity made themselves apparent at multiple stages throughout the week. Transport, equipment, accommodation, food, lift passes and instructors all had to be arranged well in advance to ensure the smooth running of the trip. OCdts from SUOTC were fortunate, in that they were able to fly direct from Southampton Airport to Geneva and then travel onward to Tignes by Coach, saving them from the untold hours of misery of a prolonged coach journey, so everyone arrived in Tignes in good spirits and keen to get out on the slopes.

Over the course of the week OCdts received first rate instruction from qualified forces personnel and many made considerable improvement in their technique. Furthermore, OCdts received several presentations and were involved in classroom based teaching, so they might learn about the environment they had come to: the high mountains. Ranging between approximately 1500 m and 3500 m, Tignes is one of the highest resorts in the Alps, and as such many of the dangers of high-mountain terrain were present, meaning that the training that OCdts received on the risks and dangers of the environment was very important. Due to significant snowfall and high winds in the week preceding the exercise, the threat of avalanche was considerable. As such, great care was taken to manage the risk OCdts were exposed to. This provided OCdts with a good appreciation for the dangers of the mountains, and taught them something of risk assessment and management, key skills for an Officer in the British Army.

With regards to the ski instruction itself, many OCdts made considerable improvements, in their ski technique, knowledge and confidence. OCdt Verrinder, who started the exercise as a complete novice, said: “My instructor really helped me, he was incredible. I loved skiing and would definitely go again”.

As for the SF2 groups, they got to experience the challenge of ski touring and, while many initially grumbled at the prospect of having to climb up the mountain instead of taking a perfectly good lift, everyone was soon big touring fans. Furthermore, OCdts learnt how to build snow caves, analyse the snow pack and recover a buried avalanche victim, essential knowledge for a ski tourer.

Finally, having completed their respective courses and with most having earned a qualification, OCdts were given the opportunity to ski the resort for the final day and put all they had leaned into practice. Thus, as the exercise came to a close, OCdts returned to the UK in high spirits and proud of what they had achieved. The question that was on everyone’s lips was ‘When is the next one?’

Southampton University Officer Training Corps would like to thank The Connaught Trust for their generous support to the exercise.

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