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On Thursday the 30th of January, 12 intrepid teams arrived in Italy to take on the first ever AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic, a brand new snowsports fundraising challenge hosted by Snow-Camp.
The new event, taking over from Snow-Camp’s long running Alpine Challenge in Morzine, brings teams together to take on five different snowsports challenges over 2 days that will test their skills and capabilities, enable them to experience new activities and have lots of fun in the process.
The event opened on the Thursday evening with a wonderful welcome dinner at the renowned Pierre Alexis restaurant in Courmayeur. Alongside gourmet food and wine, teams received a full briefing on the rules of the new event, were given their bibs and welcome packs and chatted to fellow competitors, who included a team of youth apprentices from the Snow-Camp North West programme and their Programme Manager, Morven Bett.
Day 1 of the AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic was composed of 3 challenges, the Snowshoe Hike, Laser Biathlon and Team Orienteering. The event began at 10am sharp from the top of Col de Checruit, with a stunning Mont Blanc backdrop and bluebird conditions. After a final safety briefing and obligatory group photo – a mass Le Mans start launched the event!
Teams were tasked with collecting 30 checkpoints from around the mountain during the first day, recording each checkpoint with a group shot and the checkpoint number in view! Rachel Duncan from Momentum and Dan Charlish from Snow-Camp had spent the preceding 2 days putting all the checkpoints in position, and it was fantastic to see the photos start to arrive as teams collected checkpoints from far and wide, using creative ways to make sure each of the team members faces were in each shot, along with the checkpoint sign.
Each team also had a slot for their snowshoe hike and laser biathlon challenges during the day, with times for each drawn at random at the briefing dinner. This added to the strategy needed as teams would have to plot specific routes to maximise their checkpoint collection while also factoring in the time it would take them to get to the location of the other challenges to be completed!
The course for the snowshoe hike was set to run up the side of mountain alongside Maison Vieille, through the trees and back down again – and when teams arrived they were greeted and briefed by expert mountain guide Gianni Carboni who quickly explained the best technique for getting round the course.
As each team set off, many different tactics were seen at play; some teams decided to hike/run as fast as they could around the course, resulting in some falls, lost snowshoes and some team members being left behind. Others stuck together and hiked round with almost military precision, leading to great results. One participant even decided to forgo the hiking element altogether and sat down and slid, toboggan style, as his team descended. Times for each teams’ lap were collected, a leaderboard created and everyone enjoyed the challenge! The fitness of Team Delanski shone through in this challenge and they lead the leaderboard with a time of 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
Meanwhile, at the biathlon course, ESF biathlon experts Eric and Thomas has set a fantastic course at Zerotta – including a lap through the trees on the flat to be skated in your ski’s to get your heart pumping, before a shooting range for each competitor with 5 targets to hit using Olympic quality laser biathlon rifles. Two laps of the course and two shooting opportunities for each team – and then final times and penalties for missed targets were all added up to create the leaderboard, which recorded that the Belly Babies won this event in some style! Long time Snow-Camp supporter and veteran of these events, Guillaume Marchant ran the biathlon challenge with his usual flare – and despite it being the first time for everyone, everything went smoothly!
Following an amazing day on the slopes in perfect conditions, teams headed back down the mountain to join Snow-Camp and Momentum Ski at the Royal e Golf Hotel for the Financial Times Forum, as part of the Knight Frank City Ski Championships. Snow-Camp were in the unique position this year of being Charity Partner of the City Ski Championships which coincided with the running of the AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic.
At the forum, Snow-Camp apprentices James, Joel and Blake had the opportunity to speak to attendees about their personal experiences and the challenges they have faced. They told the audience how Snow-Camp has helped to give their lives purpose, gain qualifications, find positive pathways and set goals for the future. Each young person spoke with incredible honesty and the whole room was captivated by their passion for snowsports and inspiring stories.
Day 2 of the AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic commenced with more sunshine and teams raring to get onto the slopes. During the morning teams would be taking on the team parallel slalom race and, with help from Momentum Ski, a brilliant slalom course and 4 mini leagues of teams had been created. As our teams headed to the top for a 10am briefing and the first race, at the foot of the race commentary was being given by none other than Snow-Camp patrons and Ski Sunday presenters Graham Bell and Chemmy Alcott, adding an extra level of authenticity, fun and excitement to the race.
Teams raced well, many for the first time, and there were also some impressive wipe-outs alongside some fantastic skiing ability. It was fascinating to watch, and the commentary had everyone on their feet cheering from the paddock. Slowly teams were whittled down through the rounds until the semi-finals saw the North West Snow-Campers just miss out on the bronze with Team Archie taking 3rd place, Delanski in 2nd and team Alpbach Allstars taking the gold with some impressive racing.
It was all to play for as the final event approached and following a joint lunch with our friends at the City Ski Championships, it was time for the last challenge of the Courmayeur Classic – the 2 hour Team Distance Challenge. Each team received a GPS tracker from Marco from Trac Trac and then had two hours to ski as far as they possible could on the surrounding mountains, making it to the finish line within a 15 minute window.
As the teams readied themselves for their 2nd Le Mans start, the weather started to take a turn for the worse and the skies started to darken, the wind grew stronger and clouds were closing in. However, it was going to take more than a bit of wind and cloud to dampen the AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic teams’ spirits and Chemmy brilliantly rallied the troops before their final battle.
Then they were off! And over two hours the GPS trackers allowed the Snow-Camp team to witness the challenge unfolding, as participants choose their routes around the mountain and some teams started pull into the lead. The Snow-Camp team headed down the mountain to Super G where teams were due to arrive. Before long the Apres bar was filled with smiling teams who had finsihed the challenge, adorned in their Snow-Camp medals and getting their team photos taken.
Words of celebration and congratulation were shared amongst participants over a well-earned beer – and the atmosphere was fantastic. Teams quite rightly enjoyed their Apres Ski, including a brilliant live band at the Super G, before returning to Pierre Alexis for the final awards dinner.
During the awards dinner, there were many amazing stories to share from over the two days, funny moments and brilliant achievements and the fantastic support from all the participants was celebrated. Andy Bell from title sponsors AJ Bell spoke generously about why they choose to support Snow-Camp’s work.
Snow-Camp were then delighted to award the Top Fundraiser trophy to team Delanski who had raised an astounding £11,200, setting an amazing precedent for the years to follow. Delancey are a long-term supporter of Snow-Camp’s work and it was wonderful to have the team in Courmayeur with us. Dan Charlish presented the cup to the team and thanked the team and Delancey for the amazing support they give Snow-Camp.
It was then time to announce the overall event winners and it was team Alpbach Allstars that took the first ever AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic title. They had had a fantastic second day on the slopes, winning the parallel slalom and getting over 35km distance during the two hours of the team distance challenge! But there were many other notable performances as the league table showed. Congratulations to both our winners and to all participants of the 2020 AJ Bell Courmayeur Classic.
The was an incredible sense of achievement and camaraderie in Pierre Alexis that evening, with teams already talking about next year’s event, what they would be doing differently to improve and who they would be inviting to come along.
Thank you so much to everyone that helped make the first ever AJ Courmayeur Classic the amazing success it was. A special mention to Momentum Ski for being a huge support as we moved the new event to Courmayeur – we could not have done it without you. And our heartfelt thanks, once again, to Tracey and Andy at AJ Bell Trust for their wonderful support to Snow-Camp and belief in our work.