Ski Expedition Alpine Wings        

Ex Alpine Wings started, as most AT expeds do, in MT. This particular MT journey was far from the highlight of the trip as we left RAF Wyton on an indistinct sunny Friday afternoon in mid March, knowing we were about to embark on a 24 hour journey from Cambridgeshire to Tignes in the French  Alps.

The journey actually took a little over 26 hours, and on a bus filled to capacity, sleep, leg room and toilet breaks were all scarce. All 15 survived the ordeal. We were a mixed bunch; 11 students, 2 instructors and a member of staff from both CUAS and ULAS. Due to a few last minute CUAS changes, 4 spaces on the trip were offered to the closest and most logical unit – East Scotland UAS.

We arrived at Tignes just in time to find our accommodation and regroup in a restaurant to go over the necessary briefings. We also managed to conveniently arrive just in time to watch England’s dismal attempt at winning a Grand Slam title in the 6 Nations. Then, to entertain the Scottish contingent amongst us we stuck around and took in Scotland’s similarly dismal display against the French.

Everyone was clearly excited about finally arriving, and looking forward to the prospect of getting to know our flatmates very well in our rather ‘intimate’ accommodation. What the more experienced skiers among us were most excited about however, was the 30 cm of snow forecast for that night. We were not disappointed and the next day was a treat of powdery goodness, with our instructors Flt Lt Randle and Fg Off Grocock relishing the opportunity to take their (mostly) willing students down the fresh powder. Although it was bitterly cold, especially on the resorts woefully uncovered ski-lifts, and the visibility was poor, it was a fantastic day’s skiing.

The second day brought more snow, and more powder. The weather was much clearer this day, and I can honestly say it was probably the best days skiing. This was sadly the last big ‘snow dump’ we had and after we had enjoyed a relaxed afternoon on the slopes it was time to get back to the work on our technique. Flt Lt Randle provided his group with plenty of entertainment when discussing proper ski technique, waving his hands in the air like a Typhoon pilot in the Mess bar.

On day 3 we tackled ‘En Face’, a famous black slope once used for the men’s downhill race at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games. It was steep and covered in moguls, all in all a real thigh burner.

For those that have not been skiing, or at least not with an instructor, the usual thing to do is to follow them down the piste, listening to their instructor and taking the slopes that they recommend. Sadly OC Hood had clearly not got this memo as on day 4 she decided to pick her own way down the mountain, losing the group entirely. After some time trying to find her, the group worked their way down to find her sitting blissfully at the bottom of the resort, greeting them with a casual ‘oh hey!’

The 2nd week of the Exped saw the departure of the first group and the arrival of the second bunch of wannabe ski heroes, who this time, were all CUAS members. With a generally less experienced group, including 8 complete novices, the focus was more on learning the foundations of skiing rather than the more advanced techniques that the first week saw. That said, towards the end of the first week, techniques such as carving and short swings were introduced to the more competent members of the group.

The novice group advanced quickly and by Day 4, several of the team had attempted (successfully!) their first ever black run, a great milestone in any skiers career. The weather was comparable to the first week, and another ‘dump’ of snow, albeit not 30 cm, allowed the novice skiers to experience ‘powder skiing’ .

Overall, the Exped had two excellent weeks of training. The practical lessons on the hill, combined with evening briefs on topics such as Avalanche Risk, Mountain Winter Hazards & Risk meant that by the end of the both weeks all Exped members had attained the Ski Foundation 1 qualification.

Exercise Aquatic Endeavour was a seven day diving expedition to Gozo, Malta, undertaken by thirteen Cambridge University Air Squadron (CUAS) students under the instruction of Sub-Aqua Diving Supervisor (SADS), Sqn Ldr Chucky Kane. The students were working towards the Ocean Diver, Sports Diver and Dive Leader qualifications, depending on previous experience.


Exercise Aquatic Endeavour

The majority of students had never dived before; therefore the first morning was focussed on transferring drills and techniques learnt previously in UK pool sessions into the less familiar ocean environment, preparing students for their first cave dive in the afternoon. After the first day, it was clear that many students were struggling with their buoyancy and air consumption! This of course was thoroughly debriefed and the theory revisited to ensure there were no snags for the following, ‘punchier’ dive.

The next day saw the squadron head to Dwejra Bay to dive the Blue Hole (pictured). In these beautiful surroundings, everyone came into their own underwater; despite diving to 20m for the first time, the novice members all demonstrated much improved technique and control (with only a few buoyancy issues!)

For the rest of the week, the novices practiced more drills such as controlled buoyant lifts and mask floods, whilst the prospective sports divers learnt how to deploy their surface marker bouys. All the while, the divers were exposed to new environments such as ship wrecks, reefs and a labyrinth of caves. This constant change of scenery mixed with the stream of underwater drills meant that the students were stretched well out of their comfort zone, and as a result, all left Gozo with a deep sense of achievement and a passion for diving that spanned new depths. All in all, it was a cracking week and CUAS are looking forward to the prospect of future diving expeds.