Exercise White Knight 34
We were heading for Verbier, a small village located high in the Swiss Alps. The hope was that the journey would be relatively painless, and to our great surprise it was. We took the ferry across to Calais and drove through the night heading down through France into Switzerland. After 12 hours on the road, we finally made the climb up the mountain to the Swiss village and the scenery was jaw dropping to say the least.
We managed to find our chalet with relative ease and as far as military accommodation goes it was without doubt the best I have sampled yet; complete with a balcony overlooking a mountain range that just seems to go on and on into the distance and with all the mod cons you could want. None of us knew what to expect before arriving but could already tell this was looking good for a six week exercise. No rest for the wicked though and we knew the exercise was going to be no holiday. We headed down the hill to meet with the other AAC and Royal Armoured Corps Teams to receive briefings from the exercise directors; the basic dos and do nots while we were there, what we’d do over the exercise period and some top tips for success. After the brief, we went back up to our chalet and got our skiing gear ready in eager anticipation for the following morning.
We had come out on this exercise for alpine ski race training where we would be pit against the other Corps and Regiments in four classes. Slalom (short quick skis for darting in and out of gates), Giant Slalom (same principle but longer skis to give you more speed on a quicker course), Super Giant Slalom (slightly quicker again) and Downhill (not quite Eddie the Eagle stuff, but even longer, even faster, even higher). The exercise begins with 4 weeks with an instructor from The Swiss Ski School training you to perfect your skiing and introduce you to racing techniques.
Day 1 was a case of “finding your skiing legs” and, after a bit of time for those who had skied before to get back into the flow, there was a grading process that involved the instructors watching you ski down a slope and placing people in groups 1 to 12. (1 being the absolute skiing ninjas and 12 being those who are new to the sport.) In this case I made it down in one piece and was placed in Group 6 with 12 others and a Swiss Instructor who went by the name François at the helm. Now François was no ordinary instructor, the man was middle aged, ex Swiss military, an absolute mentalist (but in a good way), an amazing skier and completely understood military humour (he could give it as well as take it). He very much made the exercise the great experience it was.
Weeks 2,3,4 in my opinion are the best weeks of the entire exercise, you get to carry out training across the whole resort (there are so many ski runs to choose from of all different grades) and, as for off-piste opportunities, Verbier is the best I’ve experience so far and thankfully our instructor was crazy enough to take us off the slopes. The only downside to this was when we were forecast heavy snow, visibility would get terrible and you could hardly see anything. On one of the days we tried descending a slope and it was a complete white out, we tried explaining to François we couldn’t see anything and it was too dangerous to continue skiing down the mountain, he replied with “you don’t need to see the mountain, you need to feel the mountain”, I replied with “I’m not a Jedi.”
Now to some, Christmas is a special time and true it should ideally be spent with family and loved ones, but because the exercise is over the Christmas period you get four days off to celebrate the holiday (you do have the option to go back home if you want). Believe me when I say you’re in good hands; Verbier’s nightlife is something that must be experienced to be believed, once you sample it you’ll love it and keep wanting to go back for more.
Once Christmas is over the four weeks of training come into effect and the tempo is increased on the racing phase. All the groups come together and battle it out to see who can get the fastest time in the different events. 4 Regiment as a whole were not in a bad position by the end of it and we had some confident skiers all round. Even the guys who had never worn a pair of skis at all were giving those higher groups a run for their money. At the end of the race phase two of us won awards: Airtrooper M Jordan was awarded the Best Junior Skier of the exercise and I was awarded Best in Group 6 by François himself.
With the exercise drawing to a close, it felt crazy that the six weeks had gone by so fast, but we had all achieved a great deal from coming to Verbier. Both experienced and novice alike improved their skiing and knowledge of the mountain environment significantly. Some even pushed their skiing boundaries too far and injured themselves in the process, but one thing remained clear, everyone had thoroughly enjoyed their time out there in the Swiss Alps.
After saying our goodbyes in Verbier, we packed up the van, handed back our chalet, took one last look at the views and prepared for the journey to follow. My advice to you after experiencing Exercise WHITE KNIGHT first hand is regardless of whether you’ve skied or not this is a must do exercise, and if you’re lucky (or unlucky enough) to get François as your instructor you’re in for a wild ride.
By LCpl Bulpin J – HQ Sqn 4 Regt AAC