AN army officer from Bicester has finished in the top third of a gruelling military ski challenge despite having only limited experience of the sport.
Major Karen Noonan, 31, of the Germany-based 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, was one of 320 soldiers and officers to compete in Exercise Pipedown, an eight-day skiing competition held in the French Alps near Mont Blanc.
She finished 91st after learning to ski as part of an Army course just two years ago. Maj Noonan completed a seven-month tour of Afghanistan in October, where she was the adjutant of the Royal Artillery.
She has also served in Iraq, Belize and Kenya since commissioning in 2002.
Maj Noonan said: “Hurtling down an ice-filled slope teaches you about yourself – this exercise is a great leveller. There are no ranks on the slopes – it teaches you a lot about yourself and gives you a lot of confidence.
“For those of us who have just returned from Afghanistan coming here is a good break, showing the real upside of being in the Army.”
The triathlon and cycling enthusiast, whose parents John and Heather still live in Bicester, added: “I started skiing two years ago with the Army in Germany – I took part in an adventure training exercise and the experience whetted my appetite for skiing.
“I thought I would love to bomb down a run and experience the challenge of racing. I enjoy the rush and the adrenalin, as your technique improves you become more confident, and I actually did much better here than I thought I would.”
During the exercise the soldiers’ physical and mental strength is tested to the limit in a variety of individual and team events including a 10km biathlon sprint, a 4 x 10km relay, slaloms, downhill skiing, a 1km floodlit challenge and a 20km military patrol race.
Events are designed to test soldiers in essential military disciplines including marksmanship, map reading and physical endurance.
This year’s contest was one of the most eventful in downhill and cross-country sections after warm conditions resulted in icy fast ski runs.
Vice-chairman of the Army Winter Sports Association, Brigadier Richard Dennis, described Exercise Pipedown as, “physically and mentally demanding.”
He said: “It showcases adventure training in its true sense, bringing out courage and determination in the competitors.
“It is part of the wider winter programme of sports and adventure training the army provides to give soldiers the chance to take part in all seven of the main winter sports including Alpine and Nordic skiing, Telemark, snowboarding, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton.
“The number of novice skiers here is extremely encouraging, and I would say to any military personnel thinking of having a go to ask their superiors to find out more about what the Army Winter Sports Association has to offer.
“You can go from novice to national level. In every Winter Olympics there has been someone who was introduced to the sport in the military.”
Major General Adrian Bradshaw, General Officer Commanding 1 (UK) Armoured Division, presented prizes to all the winners.