WHITEBURN PHAT CHALLENGE 2014 – Bringing L’esprit des Olympics d’Hiver back to Chamonix
Chamonix, January 1924, hosted the first ever Semaine Internationale des Sports d’Hiver (International Winter Sports’ Week), aka the inaugural ‘Winter Olympic Games’ – held at the foot of Mont Blanc.
90 years later, 31st January 2014, while Russia prepared their pipes and pistes for the Sochi Winter Olympics, 20 PHAT GB “athletes” were winging their way through the tunnel from snowy Italy to sunny France, rushin’ back to the homeland of winter sports’ competition, pursued by a (polar) bear.
Event No 1. PHAToLimPics 2014 : Alpine Skiing & Dual Slalom
The PHAToLimPics 2014 were welcomed to Chamonix Mont Blanc’s village of Vallorcine and the bracing Balme mountain range. Eddie of Ed Ski Therapy met and briefed the PHAToLIMpians over cafés at Le Tour before heading up the gondolas for intensive ski technique coaching and dual slalom gates practice. The sun was shining, the pistes were chalky perfect and the air was as nippy as a dram.
Dressed in their slinky race suits of all shapes and sizes – from rampant lion yellow Nevica to pure Russian bling Socchi ski threads – the PHATs were fast and furious. Phlinging themselves through the slalom posts, they were driven phrantically to the PHinish gates by the aromas of hot coffee and croissants served by Ruski-dames, Sam and Ruth, in their pop-up phaux-phur-shrouded snow-bench cafe.
The head to head dual slalom competition saw snowboarders and telemarketers mixing it up with the classic downhill skiers. Finishes were so close the final winners were tough to choose. Controversially, a decision was made, then all the PHAT-letes were escorted on skis by Erin, the Rushing Bride, to the authentic Chamonix L’Alpage du Balme for a filling tartiflette lunch.
Event No 2. PHAToLimpics 1924 (ish) : Cross-country Skiing (aka Ski du Fond)
Phuelled with tartiflette, the PHATletes cruised around the superb pistes amidst stunning Chamonix scenery and then skied the long winding trail down to Vallorcine – the village named “Valley of the Bears”.
Fitted with Ski du Fond (XC Skis and boots), the diehard PHAToLIMpians prepared for their next competition with an Express Rushin’ Lesson in Ski du Fond, following Erin the Rushin Bride along a classic cross country ski trail through the heart of the Vallorcine Valley – under the Balme mountains where they’d raced that morning.
The PHATletes were un-phased by steep inclines and worrisome descents… stopped in their tracks only by that polar bear they’d bizarrely encountered earlier. This time the Vallorcine bear challenged their shooting skills, presenting them with a shot of the legendary lemoncello then demanding they spear a woodland coconut shy with ski poles. There were winners. And there were most definitely losers!
The final Ski du Fond event was a PHAToLIMPic relay race around parallel tracks for classic ski du fond. The race was duly finished with questionable ethics of competition.
Event No 3. Bear-ly Phinished: PHAToLimPics Curling!
The tired, hungry PHATties handed in their skinny skis and waddled wearily to Vallorcine’s Residence du Mont Blanc and Patinoire (ice rink), where steaming mugs of hot chocolates and vin chauds were placed in their chilly hands and hot crepes were made to order. Bears in figure skating tutus temptingly awaited the phats to get on the ice and start sliding around.
Firstly though, everyone received a crash course in CURLING from the legendary Karine Caux, from the Cham Curl club and part of the France Curling committee. Dark horses amongst the PHAToLIMPians, David Kilgour and John Shepherd came forward to win a seriously phierce knockout competition, with handicaps such as racing be-tutu-ed bears disrupting the concentration on the ice.
PHAToLimPics Closing Ceremony:
As champagne showered the show of prize winners, the PHAT’s gradually snuck off to change their attire… And blingly kilted, suited and dressed to the nines, they marched with a PHAToLIMPic torch to a PHINE evening of Russian bling Socchi-style PHAToLimPic ceremony. La Café Comptoir offered a delectable Savoyarde menu, with local Vallorcine family recipes, not to mention phlowing wine, bubbles and beers. The specially commissioned Brazilian band belted out tunes that got the Olympian mood into full swing. Meanwhile, the phoxy Sam, event concierge, used her amazing powers of deduction to ascertain the PHAToLIMPic winners whilst quelling the protests from various PHAT not-so-winners. Luckily the night ended in Socchi vodka infused with Russian gold. Then every now-very-happy PHAToLIMPian was piled onto the Rushin Bus back to Courmayeur… And the rest of the night? …Well PHAT’s for the Italians to worry about!