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Wacky racers tackle the piste in fancy dress
Sunday, 27 February 2005




Running barefoot over snow- covered rocks and gravel! No, it’s not the latest in some crazy Japanese torture game show, but an event that could happen today in Scotland. Regardless of your nationality, you would have to be a little “alternative” to get your kicks doing this sort of activity, but upwards of 50 hardy ski enthusiasts may be getting cold feet at Aonach Mor in the Nevis Range’s third Mammoth Descent.

Up until this week, 2005 has not been a great year for skiers and snowboarders, which is why the event is guaranteed to attract big numbers of participants, each with a dress sense that is not normally seen on the slopes.

The competition rules are simple. Last one down the hill is a hairy kipper! Well almost.

Race enthusiasts start at the summit of Aonach Mor, some 4,006ft up, and ski or board down to the top station, 2,000ft below, taking the fastest line humanely possible.

The next part of the mad dash involves a sprint back up to the top of Sgurr Finnisg-aig, which is when the fun begins. Competitors can decide to ditch their snowboarding boots in favour of sturdy sneakers or attempt to sprint in their ski boots.

Or like the event’s most recent winner, a ballsy New Zealander, opt for the Zola Budd style of running.

The final dash up the hill is only about two miles, but it’s the terrain under foot, not to mention the gradient, that makes the whole event a great spectacle for competitors and spectators alike.

A fun competition, still very much in its infancy, which offers a prize to the wackiest dressed skier, the Mammoth Descent first hit the slopes in 2002 in celebration of “The Year of the Mountain”.

A lack of snow meant that last year the event had to be cancelled so previous part- icipants like speed skier Norman Clark are raring to go.

Clark came a respectable third in 2003 but is looking to improve on his standing this year, although he is adamant he won’t be running bare foot.

“I’ll hang my trainers loosely tied around my neck,” said the 42-year-old Fort William-based builder.

A self-confessed speed junkie, Clark holds the record as the fastest Scottish skier, clocking up 138mph on his skies. The father-of-two is also currently ranked No 2 in Britain at his sport.

Today, however, is just a bit of fun for Clark. His 8ft speed skies, specially designed racing helmet and latex suit will be left at home in favour of a set of standard slalom skies.

Although, if he donned his usual apparel, he could easily compete for the wackiest dressed prize.

Another eager racer who knows the area very well but is new to the event is Claire Evans. A ski school assistant administrator at the Nevis Range since Christmas, Evans is a cosmopolitan competitor, having worked in Colorado and New Zealand for the previous five years.

She first sampled the delights the slopes offer a decade ago, but it was the desire to do a ski season in Scotland that brought Oban-born Evans back to her homeland.

Although she is an employee at the range, the team spirit element of the event, not to mention the party afterwards in the Goose Bar, was reason enough for her to get involved. “Skiers in general have a certain affinity with one another,” she said.

Although Evans is quick to hype up the fun element of the day, she has done some tactical thinking, which is why, like Clark, she is leaving her new board at home and opting to replace the dust on her old board with several layers of wax.

“My plan is to ride off-piste as far as I possibly can and reduce the distance that I have to run,” said the 29- year-old.

Evans will more than likely try to board over the rocks and stones that some racers will be merrily running over, which is why she is keen to protect her new board from the “terrain trauma” of this event.

Scotland’s highest ski area – with a total of 35 runs, 12 lifts, two snack huts, a restaurant and a cafe – the Nevis Range is a mecca for snowsport enthusiasts and sightseers.

With Ben Nevis smiling down upon the range, the pistes not only have a stunning backdrop but are also blessed with spectacular views.

Although it is recommended that racers entering the Mammoth Descent are comfortable in their ability to ski or board down a red run, complete beginners can use the services of the Nevis Range Ski and Snowboard School to get themselves ready for next year.

Having gained a reputation for being one of the best in Britain, instructors are on hand to get you up to speed regardless of your ability.

The school also offers telemarking and blading lessons alongside the standard ski and snowboard classes for those who fancy trying something a bit different, while adaptive skiing is also available for disabled skiers.

So you have two choices today – if you are in the vicinity, get yourself along to the Nevis Range to watch the fun or better still take part.

I promise you won’t have to show off a perfect pedicure, unless you really want to!

For details of forthcoming events at the Nevis Range log on to www.nevisrange.co.uk or call the resort on 01397 705 825.

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