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The 16th City Ski Championships, staged for the last four years at the handsome Swiss resort of Crans Montana, proved to be a natural theatre of high jinks, hilarity and winter sporting derring-do – happily counter balanced by exercising the grey matter at the now well established Financial Times Alpine Forum.
Just shy of 200 skiers and snowboarders at this year’s Momentum Ski Festival (which incorporates the City Ski Championships) winged their way, courtesy of the event’s travel partner, Swiss International AirLines, to the heart of the Valais mountains, to compete on World Cup graded slopes for a glittering array of silverware, enviable prizes and the all important glory of victory.
The Thursday night welcome dinner at Italian restaurant, Molino’s, set the tone for the entire weekend. A lavish buffet of antipasti featuring delicious cured ham draping off three tiers of silver serving trays was followed by choice of artisanal pizzas from the venue’s wood-fired oven.
As guests arrived in waves, off transfers from Geneva, live band – To The Sun – sponsored by cool clothing company, Mambo Europe, brought the evening to life. In no time at all, team members from the likes of Lloyds, Accenture, Knight Frank and Novum Securities, to name but a few, hit the floor to throw down some shapes.
Male movers and shakers seemed particularly transfixed by French bass player, Celine, possibly more for her head-turning curves than her deep, seductive tunes. Though the band’s high energy, lead vocalist offered plenty of eye candy credentials for the girls to compliment his excellent voice. Doubtless, expert après-ski event organisers, Taking The Piste, were well aware of this band’s multiple charms when selecting the entertainment for the city faithful.
After ski rental collection from Alex Sports and Zermatten Sports next morning, the shrewdest competitors took full advantage of race training clinics offered by experts from the ESS Montana ski school in preparation for Friday afternoon’s Dual Parallel Slalom race, sponsored by Accenture on the world famous Piste National.
It was easy to spot those whose quest for trophies was most profound. They would be trying demo skis, consulting the ski boot lab technicians or getting their skis tuned all available at the Snow+Rock Performance Gain Centre located in the paddock area at the bottom of the racecourse. Or the fitness aficionados would be in the next-door tent having their race muscles kneaded by injury assessment professionals from Physio Remedies.
Those more relaxed about their racing abilities frequented Knight Frank’s tent, not merely to ogle the latest desirable properties for sale in their glossy brochures, but to indulge in the complimentary Bloody Marys and Kir Royals which flowed generously throughout the weekend. Along with the customary live music and cutting edge commentary from Matt Chilton, the chime of Knight Frank’s mini cow bells, given to all, injected another welcome layer of celebration to the atmosphere of the paddock.
All but those opting to squeeze their figures into skin tight lycra, one-piece race suits, could resist the aroma wafting across the paddock from the fine luncheon of melted raclette cheese and all the trimmings laid on, courtesy of Ibiza property developers, Calaconta Luxury Villas.
When the slippery moment of truth arrived, Matt called on all Dual Slalom teams to head up to the starting gates. Amin Momen, the Momentum Ski Festival’s founder, has always taken pride in the fact that his event has attracted plenty of well-known faces over the years.
This year was no different. The BBC’s Masterchef -The Professionals’ judge and two Michelin Star chef and restaurant proprietor, Marcus Wareing, and Britain’s highest ever achieving Olympian and current President of British Association of Snowsport Instructors, Sir Steve Redgrave, both made debut appearances, enjoying the racing and camaraderie so much, they have pledged to return.
Congratulations go to the Lloyds 1 team, featuring the intrepid Oliveira brothers, for winning the hard-fought Accenture Dual Slalom knockout competition. Also to Campbell Beaton of Knight Frank and young budding athlete Rebecca Christopher, winners of the Calaconta Luxury Villas Ibiza Radar Trap challenge.
Marcus Brigstocke is no stranger to the Momentum Ski Festival. Again he lent his legendary comedic talent to this year’s event, not just by competing in both the Dual Slalom and Giant Slalom races clad in a psychedelic, skin tight, one-piece suit, but also by treating the entire Momentum audience to 30 precious minutes’ worth of his master class brand of razor sharp witted, stand-up comedy after Friday’s dinner in the Hotel Etrier. All gasped at one of Marcus’s opening salvos, while the hotel owner was still roaming the dining room, when he announced, “Ah yes, Switzerland, that country flanked by so many nations that actually know how to cook!”
Commanding the entire audience of the Etrier’s dining room was no small feat considering the ferocity of the après-ski festivities that went before it at the Zerodix bar located at the base of the Cry d’Er gondola.
Again those talented boys and girls from To The Sun wowed the toffee-vodka fuelled crowd into a dancing frenzy, mostly on table tops, as the sun disappeared behind the peaks of the Rhone Valley.
Somehow amongst all of the evening’s entertainment, there was still time to attend the Financial Times Alpine Forum moderated by the FT’s Ravi Mattu, who skilfully posed questions on current affairs and the worrying state of brutality and conflict in the many troubled parts of the world.
Special guest, and now loyal frequenter of the Momentum Ski Festival, Frank Gardner, headed the panel along with Marcus Brigstocke and Marcus Wareing. The BBC’s revered Security Correspondent and President of The Ski Club of Great Britain, delivered intriguing insights into the world of terrorism, which, judging by the universal attention of the audience, were alarming and illuminating in equal measure.
It seemed curious that this thought provoking hour of cerebral engagement was sandwiched between the raucousness of the Zerodix après ski and Brigstocke’s hilarious half hour, but the balance of the entire evening, including the drinks reception in the cosy lounge of the Etrier, hosted by Le Regent Crans Montana College, proved to be a winning formula.
Bleary eyes on Saturday morning soon cleared to focus on the pre 9.30AM slot for course inspection ahead of the festival’s Blue Riband skiing and snowboarding, giant slalom event.
The headline news here is that a female skier recorded the fastest descent of all competitors for the first time in the illustrious, 16-year history of the City Ski Championships.
And until race day, it was assumed that skiing dynamo, Frankie Simonds, registered as an Accenture team member, was male. Frankie not only beat Britain’s highest achieving alpine downhill skier, Konrad Bartelski, and former British Olympian, Graham Bell, she also narrowly beat, by one-tenth of a second, Nicolas Masserey, top race instructor from ESS Montana ski school.
Amin Momen commented on Frankie’s excellent performance saying: “It’s good to see that Girl Power is thriving, alive and apparently better than ever and it’s great for the future of this event which always seeks to attract more skiing members of the fairer sex. Well done Frankie!”
The band, Firekind, also sponsored by Momentum event partner, Mambo, provided the après-ski thrills at Zerodix bar on Saturday evening.
The weekend’s grand finale, the prize giving dinner, was staged at the Congress Centre in Crans where various luminaries were called on to stage including representatives of Crans Montana’s new, exclusive International college, called The Regent Crans- Montana College, Bruno Huggler new Director of the Crans Montana tourist office, Marcus Brigstocke, Marcus Wareing and Sir Steve Redgrave, to present and award the wide range of trophies and prizes to associated champions.
Amin summed up proceedings by neatly offering heart-felt thanks to all his guests, the resort of Crans Montana, all event partners and especially his hard-working, elite squad of Momentum staff whose heroic efforts ensure the seamless running of an action packed weekend schedule of ski racing and superb entertainment.
The grand finale had a second stage in the form of a post dinner foray to the Xellent night club where the party and victory celebrations rolled through to pre dawn. The music was all the more excellent courtesy of sensational performances on vocals and saxophone by the Saxmaniacs team, which created a live concert vibe within the club. Oh what a weekend!
Written by Neil English, Freelance Ski/Travel Writing Specialist