“Why don’t you come over and help us with our F.I.S races, it will be great fun!!!” was what I remember of the conversation in a very noisy bar in Montgenevre, in February 2015, at the end of a very interesting and productive FIPS European meeting over a long weekend. The invite was from Erik Hanson, at that time, head of the Ski Patrol in Are. Erik is a tall, quiet hulk of a guy, who doesn’t talk that much, so he and I got on just great!!
In fact when I did get a bit more story out of him, it turns out that the ski hill that is now Are, was in fact his grandfather’s farm. So a lot of history and stories for another time then.
So I went over in 2015 to help with the staffing of the ladies F.I.S. races, joining a team of other patrollers, medics ex racers, and is called course crew, whose job is to prepare a set part of the course, whether that be to clear it of snow, by hand, or water the slope and salt it, or to try and make it even harder and icier!! I enjoyed the experience and working with the Swedes, so then went back over in 2017 for the World Junior Championships, all building up to the main event, the F.I.S. World Cup Races for both men and women, taking place over 2 weeks of completion, attracting the best in the world.
So as before I flew to Trondhiem in Norway, walked to Hell, stayed overnight, then amazingly was let out and got the train in the morning over into Sweden and direct to Are.
Arriving in Are on the same day as another 1200 people from all over the world, who had also come to volunteer was, to say the least, hectic!!
Once booked in and issued with our uniform, red jacket and sallopettes, hat, gloves, water bottle, shirt and fleece, I was very pleased to find out that my accommodation was in the hostel in the very centre of town, along with another 120 volunteers.
The next few days were spent working with my team on the men’s course with challenging weather, snowing hard and a fair bit of wind, so a lot of snow to be cleared from the course as the racers always want an icy hard clear surface, so lots of shoveling as no machines are allowed on the course!
Once the training runs started and then the races themselves, our duties changed to being a marshal on a gate, so making sure the racers don’t miss a pole, or if they hit them as hard as they move or rip off the banner, then you get 40 seconds to dash out from where you have to hide behind the advertising banners onto the course, reset or replace the banner on the poles, and make sure it is exactly one meter from the ground, and then slide back out of sight again!!
So for the next two weeks we spent going between course preparation, shoveling snow, and race marshall.
It would be fair to say that it was a hard shift, as conditions were pretty much against the race organisers, as it snowed most nights in the first week and then went mild for the second week, not only did we have a lot of wet snow to clear, but then had to water the course from top to bottom with fire hoses and then then spread about 5 tons of salt on to the course to harden it, and then slide over the whole surface to make it as smooth as possible!!
The highlight for me, I suppose was chatting to Lyndsey Vonn as we were going up the eight man chair, she chatted as if we were skiing together! Also meeting Mikaela Schiffrin in the top restaurant toilets, but that is another story!
I enjoyed my time in Are, and really felt that I could contribute to making this event a success, and being the only Scot and BASP member there, was certainly known by most people working there, the kilt does give it away! I have made a lot of new friends and managed to catch up with a lot of existing ones, the Swedish are so welcoming, and speak such good English that it is like a second home to me, so if the chance comes again I would certainly go again. If you fancy volunteering for this type of event, it is in Cortina 2021, so contact me and I can give you all the details and contacts.
Gerard Cameron (President of BASP)