The Blog

We're Away From Our Desks - Racing in the City Ski Championships

Some 630 miles from their desks in the City, bankers, brokers, traders, lawyers and other members of London's financial and business community found themselves hurtling down the slopes of Verbier in the annual Momentum City Ski Championships - held for the first time in this celebrated Swiss resort. It was an early weekend in February, and with bright sunshine and plentiful snow, the omens were good.

Some 150 or so skiers - a good-natured mix of young Turks and city veterans of both sexes - battled it out for a glittering array of medals and prizes in two days of racing. Another 150 or so who had come to ski recreationally but not to race, provided them with enthusiastic support.

A "radar trap" speed-skiing schuss to acknowledge the fastest male and female skier was followed by a fiercely competitive head-to-head dual parallel team slalom.

The big event was the Giant Slalom, in which skiers had to negotiate 41 gates in the (usually vain) hope of breaking the one-minute time barrier. Inevitably there were one or two spectacular crashes, one of which qualified for the "wipe-out of the weekend" - much to the glee of the hard-working race commentator, Matt Chilton of Ski Sunday fame. Reassuringly for the racers, two physiotherapists from Physio Remedies, Sarah Lawson and Caroline Ephgrave, were on hand, but fortunately there were no serious injuries. With the inevitable partying that Verbier is famous for, competitors who might have been slightly the worse for wear après the après ski could be confident that if their race performance suffered as a result, any tired or strained muscles would be expertly dealt with.

The event, the brainchild of Amin Momen, a London tour operator specialising in skiing, has evolved into something of a glorified ski festival-cum-networking weekend since it started 17 years ago in the Italian resort of Courmayeur, its home for a decade before moving to Verbier's near neighbour Crans-Montana, for four years.

One sponsor, the Financial Times, holds a packed evening Alpine Forum. The panel, chaired by the FT's Ravi Mattu, included Frank Gardner, the BBC's security correspondent, Damon Hill, the former world champion Formula 1 racing driver, Accenture's Peter Beardshaw and the comedian Marcus Brigstocke, who went on to entertain the assembled skiers at a Comedy Club night with fellow comedian Sean Meo.

Other celebrities taking part in the races included the record-breaking Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson and Konrad Bartelski, Britain's most successful World Cup downhill racer, who was the fore-runner in the Giant Slalom event. Bartelski got down so fast that when Matt Chilton saw him suddenly pop out of the snow from nowhere, he said: "Konrad! I didn't know you were coming!" When Chilton saw Accenture's Peter Beardshaw battling down the GS course he said: "He's bought his missus along but she can hardly bear to watch - she's hiding behind the sofa"

Chilton encouraged racers to get some "Dutch courage" in the form of some excellent Bloody Marys served up by Knight Frank, and Alex Koch de Gooreynd commented "I feel like a witch with my special brew!"

On small problem for the racers was that that there was no loo at the finishing line, but in preference to wandering surreptitiously into the nearby woods, they were able to access lavatories by riding up the ski lifts before or after their race. Momentum had in fact got a quote to bring a portable loo to the race paddock by helicopter but decided 2,500 Swiss Francs was a bit steep!

It was a punishing weekend for Hill after some energetic skiing with Bartelski and a challenging off-piste session before the head-to-head relay race performance on Day One. On the plane home he admitted his thighs were still aching. "My legs are shot" he grinned. "But then I'm not getting any younger!"

Although Amin Momen was wearing his prized autographed cat-suit presented to him by Tommy Moe, the downhill gold medallist at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994, it didn't quite lift his performance sufficiently to win the day. But he cheerfully shrugged off being narrowly beaten in both his GS descents by his friend and rival Damon Hill.

But you don't have to be an Olympic champion or even an expert to take part in the championships - there was even a special award for one racer, Niall Crowley, who had only put skis on for the first time a couple of days earlier. He was loudly serenaded with tinkling cowbells throughout his gentle six-minute journey. And Rob Machon, an unofficial racer from the Warren Smith Ski Academy, who were coaching some of the racers, even skied the course backwards! His time of approximately 1.08 minutes was faster than many of the racers skiing normally.

Arnie Wilson

Popular in the Community