Talk about an alpine adventure. Katy Dartford hit the slopes for Sportsister as she took part in the inaugural charity ski marathon ‘Ski the World Challenge’ last weekend in Italy.
The tears are streaming down my eyes, I’m gritting my teeth and there are stabbing pains in my thighs as they absorb the pounding of the piste. But it’s little wonder I’m on the edge, as I’m trying to keep up with the pace of my teammate, British mountaineer and adventurer, Squash Falconer. We’re in a team of three taking part in the inaugural Ski the World Challenge, a charity ski marathon in the Italian resort of Courmayeur in The Aosta Valley… and the pressure is on!
The objective is for each team of two or three people to ski or snowboard the equivalent combined height of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents – that’s 43,314m (including Mont Blanc in Western Europe and Elbrus in Eastern Europe). There’s also Kilimanjaro in Africa, Everest in Asia, Mount McKinley in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Vinson in Antarctica and Puncak Jaya in Australasia.
I’m lucky enough to be paired with Squash (who we hand the G-Trek II GPS Trip Recorder to be sure we clock the fastest speeds) and Julia Braime (www.bridesupnorth.com) in team Vinson; so we need to cover 4,892 meters, that’s 16,050 feet or three miles.
In the mad furry of ‘normal’ life, I hadn’t really stopped to consider this would mean the teams would have to clock up a combined total of nearly 30 miles in one weekend.
The event is being run by the specialist travel agent, Ski Solutions, to raise much-needed funds for the Make-a-Wish-Foundation. Each team needed sponsorship of at least £1,300 per person for the charity, which aims to make a wish come true for children and young people who have a life threatening illness. They currently grant around 75 wishes a month and want to make it to 85 wishes every month by the end of 2012. This means they need to raise at least £6.8 million this year.
On the chairlift, Julia, Squash and I discussed tactics. BBC’s Ski Sunday and five times Olympic ski racer, Graham Bell had already tested the course and advised the group to pick just two lifts with a good vertical drop of several hundred metres but, more importantly, a fast ride up so as much time as possible is spent skiing down, rather than sitting on a lift. We worked out that we would need make 22 laps each per day to achieve our goal, which at first I thought would be a little dull, but with the camaraderie and mutually competitive team mates, it became madly addictive with each run going faster and faster as I became braver and more familiar with intricacies of the slope. We decided that the best tactic would be to have one person continue the laps with the GPS, whilst the other two stopped for a quick lunch break- then rotate. It was a winning formula as we gathered the miles whilst (so I’m told) a few others slumped off for a decadent pizza and pasta lunch and lost out… it was also key to our tactic in getting most of our mileage done on the Saturday so we could enjoy the Courmayeur nightlife later and have an “easy day” on Sunday.
For the morning session we skied the softer runs that were in the sun, Areti and Checrouit, then, as they became too slushy, headed over the other side that had been icy in the morning to lap the ultra-fast ‘Gabba and ‘Lazey’ runs – a not quite apt name as it certainly didn’t feel very ‘lazy’ as we eventually straight lined it all the way down!
I lost count of how many times we rode the same lift after a couple of dozen or so runs but Julia was keeping track obsessively and by 4pm on the Saturday – with heavy legs – we had reached 49 runs of around 300 meters – smashing our target.
Later, over a hot and very boozy Italian Bombardino, I rejoiced in hearing the results; two teams had completed the challenge after day one. Team Puncak Jaya, and in second place- us, Team Vinson. Not only had we completed 105 per cent of the distance, we’d beaten Graham Bell’s team who had to finish off on a very hungover Sunday. Everyone eventually completed the challenge and so far over £20,000 has been raised for Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Hotel Pilier d’Angle, Courmayeur, Italy - Ski Solutions offer 4 nights on a half board basis from £635 per person staying at 3* Hotel Pilier d’Angle including return flights and airport transfers. Click here for more info.
Aosta Valley: www.aosta-valley.co.uk
Make A Wish Foundation: www.make-a-wish.org.uk
Squash Falconer, aostaValleyalpine Ambasador: www.squashfalconer.com
Graham Bell: AostaValleyAmbassador : www.graham-bell.com
Katy Dartford, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine