Wow! We’re all back safe and sound from ScoutSki 2017 in Passo Tonale.  We knew it would be an incredible trip, but, truth be told, this surpassed even our expectations (and then some!)  Everything went super-smoothly, everyone made great progress on the slopes, and there were so many highlights that I’m not even sure where to start, or if it’s even possible to cram them all in here!

Saturday 18th February 2017

It all started at 3am on a cold and dark Saturday morning.  Everyone was on time and it was a slick getaway on the minibuses to Manchester airport, then onwards with KLM via Amsterdam to Milan.  The final leg of the journey was completed by coach, arriving at Hotel Edelweiss – our home for the week – in the late afternoon.  That meant there was still time to walk past the pistes, pick up all our ski or snowboard equipment, and sample the hotel restaurant’s three course meals for the first time, before a final briefing about what to expect the next day, and, in the best traditions of Scouting, how to ‘be prepared’.

Sunday 19th February 2017

There was excitement in the air as we hit the slopes for the first time!  For the people who hadn’t skied or boarded before, that meant trying to work out where their feet were supposed to go.  For the old hands, it meant strapping themselves back in and riding the hills again.  We met our instructors – who all seemed like a decent bunch – and we split into three groups of skiers and one group of snowboarders.  The skiers worked their way around the nursey slopes using pull-lifts, whilst the boarders retreated to a super-slow chairlift as their new home territory –  a slope that they would continue either sitting down on or slamming heavily into, for another three days.  It may have been a tiring day, but it was all smiles as we hit the Magic Pub for well-deserved apres-ski (though I think most of the lads had left to go shopping or shower by the time that the bar really started to get going).  After dinner, there was a Pointless quiz, before most people turned in for an early night.

Monday 20th February 2017

As normal, everyone was woken up at 7:30am, which gave us half an hour to wake up and rally in the hotel restaurant, half an hour to help themselves to continental breakfast (and neck as much hot chocolate as they could stomach), and half an hour to get kitted up and make the short walk to the bottom of the pistes for their 9am lessons.  A second day of lessons (with everyone still enjoying the odd tumble as their found their limits and worked out where their weight should be).  Scouts loved lessons a lot, but the ‘free-ski’ elements more: the freedom to abandon the line and to travel at their own choice of pace and direction proving to be an exhilarating mix.  The apres ski activity was essentially finding the local gelateria and Spar, and in the evening, there was a Cluedo themed wide-game which saw the lads playing a wide-game at five degrees below zero!  Another excellent and unbeatable sunshiny day.

Tuesday 21st February 2017

The Scouts were disappointed to hear that they wouldn’t be skiing in the afternoon, but that was before they heard what we were doing instead!  After the usual morning of lessons and free-skiing, we met for lunch and then headed en-masse down the valley for something a bit different: sled-dogs.  After a short interval whilst we sent a group on an emergency mission to retrieve all our shoes, everyone was brave enough to try their hand at mushing a pack of dogs.  Each sled had four dogs attached to it, which you controlled by putting weight onto the ‘carpet’ at the back of the sled (and praying the dogs were paying attention!).  It’s certainly not something you get to do every day, and the lads showed themselves to be excellent mushers (we already knew the leaders were excellent mushers, because we hadn’t been late to anything yet…).  They also, obviously, enjoyed playing in the snow in the sunshine, and no one was safe from getting a snowballing!

The afternoon with the dogs also meant that we could cram in some more skiing later in the day – and the night-skiing (down a single flood-lit piste) was truly magical: the piste and weather conditions were perfect and the angle of the slope was optimal for more advanced skiers to let rip, and for the newbies to make great strides forward in both their confidence and enjoyment of skiing (or boarding).  The whole day was rounded off in style with hot chocolates in the Magic Pub, which was fast becoming a local.  [Credit to the instructors and leaders who did a great job in making sure that everyone was ready – they weren’t all that convinced about out plans when they heard that this was what we had planned for day 3 of skiing!

Wednesday 22nd February 2017

There was more and more exhilaration to come.  Spirits high and growing in confidence, Wednesday saw us having lunch at a mountain-top hut (we were spending lunches at a different restaurant each day, but to date, the pizza, pasta and chips had all been served down in the town).  We were helped by the continued excellent weather, which made everything easier.  All the groups were now a lot more mobile, with some groups heading over to the glacier – which offers a truly incredible panoramic vista, and which is worth the cable car ride even if you’re not going to take on the scary black run to get home.

Apres ski was ski-boot football (even some of the kids were surprised at how much they enjoyed it) and playing on some sledges, plus lapping up the late-afternoon sunshine.  And it was a chilled-out evening at the hotel as we all settled down to watch Eddie the Eagle.  The Scouts went to bed pondering what their inspirational story would be.

Thursday 23rd February 2017

Time had flown so fast and there were now only 2 days of skiing left.  Getting tired now, some Explorers were starting to need a little more encouragement to get down to breakfast on time.

It was another day of brilliant sunshine, brilliant skiing or boarding, and more happy faces.  There was more exploration, with a couple of groups heading down the valley to sample the tree-lined slopes available in Ponte di Legno, and the Boarders taking on some bigger stuff and hitting the highs of the glacier.

After being wowed by the sheer brilliance of night-skiing on Tuesday night, there were protests and even petitions that we should be doing it again on the Thursday night, but the weather closed in as the day progressed, which made our planned Disco all the more inviting.  The disco was a chance for the Scouts to let their hair down – to jump, sing and dance about like idiots – and everyone was bouncing as we signed off another fantastic day.

Friday 24th February 2017

It may have been the last day of skiing, and the weather was only ‘ok’, but everyone was still all smiles as we hit the slopes again.  By this point, we’d become a competent bunch, and it didn’t feel a gamble as we went up the slopes for a mountain-top lunch again: the hut we went to was chosen because it offers a genuine 10/10 view – so it was a bit of a shame that visibility was down to about 50 metres due to dense mist…!

It’s a given that the Scouts were all loving skiing, and whilst there was reluctance to hand back their skis, there were also team high-fives amongst the leaders as we’d all made it through the week in one piece.  Phew!

The evening saw award presentations from the ski instructors (everyone got – and earned – a medal), as well as some less serious ScoutSki awards and a few well-deserved thankyous.  A poignant end to the week.

Saturday 25th February 2017

We haven’t mentioned Scout behaviour in this account of the week – and that’s mainly because they were impeccable throughout: wherever they were, whoever they were with, and whatever they were doing, they were on point – which obviously makes it very easy to be a leader.  Today was a good example of that, with the lads all packing up their kit without much fuss, and everyone got down to breakfast on time.

There was time for one last glorious snap on the slopes in our uniform before we started the trek home to Marple: one coach, two aeroplanes and forty-two McDonalds’ helping us back to a surprise welcome at Manchester airport.

Everyone had a brilliant time, and it really is a shame that we can’t do this every year! :/

Massive THANKS to the Leaders – headed by Tommy and Adi Tognarelli – for a supremely organised and perfectly executed camp, and whenever I’m next on skis, I’ll be thinking of the rest of you.