Skiing with Heroes in Klosters

Oh, the joy of Swiss trains! If you haven’t travelled to the mountains by train to Switzerland, I’d put it up there as the best way to arrive. As soon as I left Zurich airport, the print-out of my train journey to Klosters guided me to every platform, to the minute. It made my twisting, undulating journey underneath, around and over London a distant memory.

Although I had an array of cameras and lenses in my rucksack, I wasn’t visiting the Royals’ favourite ski resort to crouch behind snowdrifts and wait for an unsuspecting Kate Middleton to fall off a T-bar. The journalists and photographers who make their living by feeding off celebrity culture could do a lot worse than spend a morning documenting what was my privilege to witness and film for the Ski Club.

Skiing With Heroes was set up in November 2012. It’s a charity that sends out wounded ex-soldiers to Klosters for a week to learn adaptive skiing skills. Captain Martin Hewitt’s ‘Walking With The Wounded Everest Expedition’ inspired the charity’s founder, Gilly Norton. And the Klosters ex-pat networks rallied, appointing a committee, trustees and chairman not to mention Hewitt himself as ambassador.

The week in Klosters saw sixteen ex-servicemen and women – selected from hundreds of applicants – learning or re-learning to ski. But skiing is not only used as a physically challenging and rehabilitative exercise. Every effort was made to ensure this is a mentally stimulating week too, with just as much emphasis on the social aspect of being in the mountains amongst friends.

Many veterans I met had suffered from post- traumatic stress and had enjoyed their first good night’s sleep in years since being in the resort. Others who had lost limbs in active service seemed to find some renewed energy since their injuries. Each veteran had ‘ski buddies’ (volunteers assigned to support them) throughout the week. Not only to help with their skiing but also to make sure they enjoyed the rest of their time.

Norton is hoping that this friendship lasts beyond Klosters with the buddies supporting the veterans back in the UK, meeting up with them and helping them find employment. Indeed, the volunteers I spoke to obviously got just as much out of the event as the veterans.

Meeting Jamie Hull was one of those moments in life when everything’s put in perspective. Jamie suffered third-degree burns over sixty percent of his body after the plane he was piloting caught fire. That he survived at all was extraordinary. Over fifty operations in five years have enabled him to carry on with his life. He had been a keen skier before his accident. Hearing what he had got out of the week, which culminated in the race day that I was filming, made me realise that skiing is something we should never take for granted. ‘I’ve definitely regained some of my confidence and self-esteem on the slopes’ said Hull. ‘Skiing is a great rehabilitative tool enabling me to get back out there and become someone again’. I will remember those words when I next catch myself getting frustrated in a lift queue, or annoyed that my goggles have misted up.

So far the charity has raised over £150,000, and veteran and ski-buddy applications are already flooding in for next year.

Tom Dixon


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