Winter sports with your VIP

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Winter sports with your VIP

Believe it or not, a Russian Oligarch arrived in Switzerland (Klosters) with 10 bodyguards and not one of them could ski.  The trip was planned for weeks, the executive protection team knew what it was going to entail and not one of the executive protection team fessed up prior to departure that they could not ski.  So in Klosters, with 10 snowmen.

Winter sports covers alpine events such as downhill skiing, cross country skiing, toboggan, snowboarding, luge, dog and reindeer sleigh adventures and, one of my favorites – the snowmobile.  (Having tried the luge once, many years ago. I stayed on the supine sled to the end of the training course, how? – I have no idea.)

Each sport has its own set of skill requirements and experience.  Truly, just about anyone after a few hours can drive a snowmobile, but it takes a good deal more experience to operate one at full throttle up, down and across steep and uneven terrain.  It takes even more information and experience  not to cause a landslide and how to attempt to avoid the consequences of a landslide if one does occur.  It’s similar to skiing; some can ski all day long on a groomed slope, but what if the charge wishes to helicopter ski in deep powder?  These are two very different types of skiing.

Equipment for alpine events is specialized, expensive and bulky.   Thus you have to either haul or hire: we choose to hire.  The equipment you can get through a hiring company is usually good quality and of recent vintage.  It also gives a good deal of flexibility that hauling all your own equipment does not.  With hiring, you can change your equipment depending on the specific snow conditions of a particular day; you can swop and change between using shorter or longer skis.

Do not just choose a vehicle.  If you are not hiring equipment you might be able to find a smaller choice, but it will still have to have room to haul the heavy winter gear.  If you are hauling – you will need racks, or a trailer or maybe even a supply vehicle to assist.

(Editors note – I ski with the boy scouts every year and you need a substantial amount of extra room for winter gear – excluding skis – which we even ask the adults to rent, because of limited space in vehicles.)

The advance party in these situations can make all the difference in the world.  Even if the VIP has a small group – with some polite requests secure drop off spots close to the lodge can be arranged.  If you are hiring equipment – sizes and weight of all parties can be transmitted in advance so that the equipment is waiting. Ideally, the deployable portion of the EP team should already be geared up and waiting for the VIP’s arrival.  Lift tickets, hotel rooms and “special events” can all be booked/arranged in advance and secured so arrival literally is just leaving the vehicles, putting on ski’s attaching the lift ticket and immediately start to have fun.

Advance partiers can also find out where the “action” is as well as what else may be occurring in the town. One charge was amused (however his companion was not!), when they had a weekend at Crested Butte in Montana.  It was an unofficial nude ski event that day to raise money for breast cancer.  Or another unexpected surprise where the slopes had been opened up  for both skier and snow boarders at the end of the season- which caused no end to the  chaos on the slopes.

Safety issues

Avalanches can happen and do happen every year.  Most avalanches occur when the slope is between 30° to 45°, 50° to 60° in maritime climates.  But one can often see beforehand where an avalanche can occur, simply by looking at the mountain and knowing what to look for. Pay attention to areas that are steep and devoid of trees.  Avalanches are so powerful that they will rip all flora from a path in front of them.  This is obviously not fool proof by any stretch of the imagination, so it is  best to check in with the local ski patrol to see what and where the dangers may be.  Also, in some locations, avalanches are a habitual and explosives are used to trigger avalanches before they would occur naturally.  Much like a prescribed burn in a forest with a build of fuels, a prescribed avalanche with a build of snow lessens the dangers of an unexpected and catastrophic event.  This too raises the issue of unexploded ordinance in these regions.  A cure to one risk that leaves a legacy risk.

EP should be ready for avalanche disasters and equip themselves as well as their charges with avalanche alert beacons and portable search poles. For as little as 200€ per alert beacon and 10€ for poles, not having several is a crime, not to mention a danger to one’s life

Some resorts rest in places where local hostilities still simmer. An Oligarch would be unwise to ski without serious protection at the eastern European resorts. Sniper positions in an alpine environment are all too easy to find – so how does the EP team deny the sniper a target?  One is to have all matching ski and winter outerwear. Another is to randomly rotate slopes also keep a perimeter between the charge and the rest of the environment. Position security, down hill, side hill and up hill; creating a circle of protection.  It is also wise to rotate the charges position.  It would be unwise to always have them at the center, much like a bulls eye on a target.

Additional safety gear should include (depending on environment), snow shoes, blue ice skates, artic ski shoes, snow axes, poles for walking, emergency space blankets, a quick shelter, and the knowledge on how to use all of this equipment  Being prepared is great but the EP team needs real skills. I would rather use my editor (as he used to race downhill and play hockey) as opposed to a seasoned EP professional who has not mastered these physical skills.  You may be a great speaker or negotiator , but if you cannot stand up or keep up on the slopes – of what use are you?

Other issues to consider is the positioning of snowmobiles for evacuation, a satellite phone with helicopters standing by – just incase.  All things being equal – these winter tools are a must to have at the ready.

As for the EP team, they need to remember for  themselves: lip balm, moisturizers, high factor  sun cream, sunglasses and good goggles, a first aid kit, knowledge of local shelters, current weather and forecasts. Some of the group should also participate in skiing, or snowmobiling with helmets, and use knee and elbow protection.  This may also be advisable for the charge.  But, if they do not accept it, some of the team should also participate without this protection – so as not to appear too different.

Also, from our knowledge, aside from Government services, only the IBA provides advance training for winter sports and survival for Executive Protection Professionals.

This Executive Protection article was written or edited by Baron James Shortt, theExecutive Director of the IBA.

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