Have you ever watched Olympic skiers and imagined yourself in their ski boots: bombing down a Giant Slalom, taking the gates with casual efficiency, the commentator effusive with praise and a crowd thrilled into applause as you skid to a flurried but controlled stop?
Well, in my case the answer was no. Until, that is, I participated in the annual City Ski Championships organised by Momentum Ski, which also runs corporate events and private ski weekends. City Ski is a mini-ski contest for the corporate world combining executives, some of their fastest friends and a smattering of Olympic athletes and celebrities. In other words: not your usual casual ski trip with friends.
The event has been held for the past 12 years in the Italian resort of Courmayeur, dominated by the commanding presence of Mont Blanc. The long weekend is geared to those who like their skiing to be competitive and perhaps spiced with a business opportunity. They want a chance to race against rival teams or themselves, beating times recorded the previous year.
“I wanted to do something that really pushes me,” says Annabel Fell-Clark, chief executive of Axa Art UK. “I’m not a golfer. I can’t bear that kind of schmoozing. This is much better.”
There are bankers, barristers and brokers. Some of the 200-odd attendees were once members of the British ski team; others, like Rupert Atkin, chief executive of an underwriting business, raced at university. Some bring clients. One buttoned-up executive admitted it is the only time of the year she dances.
Day one was all about the parallel team slalom, in which groups of four from firms such as Lloyd's of London and Accenture (resplendent in body-hugging suits emblazoned with corporate logo) competed together, while the BBC’s ski commentator Matt Chilton provided banter over the tannoy. (“That’s a Sunday stroll!” was at the tamer end of his repartee.)
Day two was the individual race. Unfortunately, that meant me as well. I had skied a little as a teenager in Germany but had not been on the slopes in 20 years. Fortunately, ski coach Warren Smith was on hand for all attendees in need of lessons or racing tips. “When I teach City people, they have the same desire for adrenalin as they get on the trading floor,” says Smith. “I try to channel that into skiing.”
Smith, who learnt to ski on a dry slope in Hemel Hempstead after the local BMX park shut down, has coached everyone from Claudia Schiffer to the rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, whom he taught how to tackle a 45-degree slope. “Beyond that and you are basically free-falling.”
Busy doing my own version of free-falling, the last thing I felt ready for was my first slalom on a course covered in ice and with an ominous mist descending (as my doleful eyes saw it). The first man down was Graham Bell, former British Olympic skier, then Colin Jackson, the former Olympic hurdler (who clocked 44 seconds) and former F1 champion Damon Hill (39.44 seconds). Even for them, the competition is compelling enough to keep them returning year after year. Yet the fastest man down was Michael Colyer of Accenture at 30.92 seconds.
Amin Momen, the engaging boss of Momentum, gave me no choice. Leaping out of the gate watched by more than 100 people, I found my heart beating improbably fast. My movements could not be called fluent, but I did not fall, and the encouragement at the bottom as you skid past the final gate is addictive. You want to do it again, better.
This year the contest is moving from Italy to Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Contestants will get to ski on the World Cup Giant Slalom course but the event will also be expanded to offer more to beginners and even non-skiers. There will be a business forum and a music and comedy festival (with stars including Rufus Hound and the Feeling).
At the final night’s gala awards dinner (hosted by comic Marcus Brigstocke), I was awarded “best basic intermediate” – a category created just for me. I got down in 1:39.87 minutes, a mere one minute and four seconds behind the fastest female (Emily Sarsfield, Britain’s number one ski cross athlete). Next year my goal is to cut that gap to a minute.
The City Ski Championships 2012 will take place on March 16-18; packages from £665 per person including flights from London (www.momentumskifestival.com).
Caroline Daniel flew from London City to Geneva with Swiss (www.swiss.com; returns from £102 including free ski carriage)