Ex Nordic Talon 2017-18
I had always wondered why you would want to bypass the perfectly serviceable ski-lifts to get you up to the slopes. Having skied from a young age, and competed in two seasons of EX SPARTAN HIKE as an alpine skier I always considered the Nordic lot to be a strange bunch for this very fact.
Alpine skiing is fun, it’s thrilling even. Nordic skiing is not. I was soon to find out that it was to be one of the hardest things I have done in the Army. I was tested in ways I had not been tested before, be it at Sandhurst or on the pilots’ course.
The opportunity arose for me to captain the 3 AAC Nordic ski team and I took it. Other than understanding that it would be a ‘Grizz’, I knew very little about the sport. We arrived in Sjusjoen, Norway for our training camp, EX NORDIC BLUEBELL; the aim being to take the three novices of the team from zero to “hero” and to hone the skills of the three with previous experience.
Nordic skiing is divided in to two disciplines – classic and skate. Classic is where you keep your skis parallel and effectively run in pre-cut tracks called loipes. Stick wax is applied to the middle third of the ski, so that when your body weight is applied the ski grips allowing you to bound forward. The ski which does not have your body weight on rests on the outer thirds and glides. Knowing which stick wax to apply comes down to a bit of a science combined with an element of luck. Temperature and freshness of snow need to be taken into account because different stick waxes have very specific ranges where they will be effective. There is ample room to get this wrong, you could have too much grip or even none at all but there will be more on that later. The second technique is skate which is self-explanatory. The skate technique is used for biathlon where rifle shoots are incorporated into the races.
The pace throughout training was relentless because there was so much to cover; but time and miles on the snow proved invaluable. The days were long too with us being up at 0700 and often continuing until 2100. A typical day would alternate between ranges in the morning and technique training in the afternoon. In addition, our rifles would need to be prepped pre-range and cleaned after, and the skis would also need to be prepared for the next day – old wax off and new wax on. Calories were fit in at every opportunity and still the love handles began to vanish.
EX WHITE FIST is the RA, RAC and AAC championships held in Hochflizen, Austria which boasts a world cup standard Nordic stadium where we would undertake our races. The first was the 12.5km classic. I mentioned earlier about the grip wax. Here we got it wrong and found we had too much grip! Finding you are unable to ski down a hill due to said grip is immensely frustrating, knackering and results in many tumbles. The quickest four of this race earnt themselves a place in the team classic relay which consisted of 4 x 5km legs. We then had a 9km biathlon skate consisting of 3 x 3 km laps interspersed with shoots. After the first lap, you have to fire in the prone position at 5 targets and after the second in the standing unsupported, again at 5 targets. It’s in your interest to hit said targets because you have to complete a 140m penalty loop for every target missed; you really do not want to be adding an extra 1400m to your race. Applying the marksmanship principles were the only thing that could compensate for your sheer fatigue and elevated heart and breathing rate. The quickest four then again qualified for another relay, this time 4 x 7.5km legs interspersed with the same shoots. The two that didn’t make the relay team still had to take part in both the relays as a Hors Concours team made up from other team individuals.
The team then progressed to EX SPARTAN HIKE in Serre Chevalier, France. This is the divisional championships where we would see ourselves competing against 36 other teams, some of which had been training since the summer. The races were mostly the same except the classic individual was extended to 15.6km and the biathlon skate individual to 10km. The championships culminated with the pièce de résistance in the military patrol race, a 20km cross country course utilising the classic technique with SA80 rifles (converted to .22 calibre) and 10kg minimum weight per team member. This involved an inspection with questions on the orders group, kit checks, navigation, command tasks and shoots; all of which resulted in bonus time being awarded or taken away from our overall time. The team performed excellently and finished a respectable 13th out of the 37 teams.
Nordic skiing for me encompassed so much of what being in the army is all about. It truly tested every single one of us and regularly pushed us to the point where we wanted to quit. As individuals you continue because you don’t want to fail and let your team down. The team spirit was exemplary and it became a well-oiled machine. When we started in Norway it would take the 6 of us in excess of 45 minutes to zero our rifles on two lanes. By the end of France we would be complete in 19 minutes on only one lane. Down time was also a valued rarity so the team showed initiative in recognising what would need to be done, in order to maximise their available free time. One of the most rewarding aspects was watching the team develop. Atpr Henry Robinson had never been on any type of ski before in his life and to begin with confessed to having only a little bit of a competitive side. In Austria he successfully qualified for both the team relays. By France not only had he qualified for the relays he got the fastest legs in both events!
Nordic skiing is an activity that is difficult to enjoy whilst you are competing, but with hindsight and the knowledge of what you have completed, it is a thoroughly rewarding experience. It challenges you and allows you to understand and exceed your limitations when it comes to enduring physical activity incorporating firing weapons or completing a military task. Every skill is directly transferrable to our everyday roles. All who took part will be going back to their unit a better soldier.
Capt Jono Everett