The Eagle Ski Club (ESC) is the UK's largest and most active ski-touring club - although you don't have to be British to be a member. They offer over 60 ski trips around the world each year, some led by guides, others organised by experienced members. And they offer two kinds of adventure grants.
The Memorial Fund Awards exist to assist skiers under the age of 35 (whether ESC members or not) to get established in ski touring or ski mountaineering. Applications should be made at least 2 months prior to the starting date of the course or tour, and must be received before Dec 4th. Notification of success will be made in mid January. Applications will normally only be considered from British citizens or UK residents.
I spoke to current Grants Secretary Steve Wright about how these awards work.
The interview answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Eagle Ski Club does not promote these grants widely, why is that?
We have as many members as we can cope with in some ways. But these grants are a very effective way of drawing in 'the right kind of people', younger people who do things.
How many applications do you get each year?
It varies a lot. Sometimes just a couple. Last year we had 12 or 14 applications and that was as much as we can handle. When you look at them closely, you find that some people do not meet the requirements, so in the end we were down to seven. [Four were for Scottish courses, the rest were in the Alps.]
In what ways do applicants not meet requirements?
Well, they might be older [the age limit is 35]. We often have a lot discussion in the Committee over what is "a first step in ski mountaineering". Also sometimes applicants are looking for support for a particular trip, perhaps an expedition, and the Memorial Fund is not intended for that. The best thing for any applicant is to discuss their potential application with the Grants Secretary, and then we can more or less avoid wasting everyone's time with an application that is out of scope.
The basis of these grants is that it is for people who are getting into ski touring?
That’s right, to take their first early steps. So it could be to help them improve their off-piste skills, or go on a training course, or help them fund their first hut-to-hut ski tour.
How have these people become interested in ski touring?
More often than not, people have done some skiing and then a bit of off-piste skiing. Then they realise that you can do more than that. Or it is people who are mountaineers and then got into skiing and realised they could bring the two things together.
Of the applications you get that do meet the criteria, do you end up funding most of them?
Yes, up to now we have done. Of course we are limited in our funds. We’ve decided to be more flexible from year to year, and more flexible between the Memorial awards and the Adventure awards. [The Adventure awards are for club members going on a ski touring expedition]. We have one pot and if we have lots of applications for the Memorial awards, we then fund more of those.
So if somebody meets the criteria, they have a good chance of getting money?
Absolutely! Just read the instructions. If you apply within those, then you have a good chance. People don’t bother to do that. They just send in applications willy-nilly without doing their homework. If people do a bit of research and look at the fine print then there are plenty of awards that they can go for.
What do most people do with this grant?
People have done off-piste courses, both in Scotland and the Alps. They have gone on Glenmore Lodge training courses to help build up skills. They have gone on introductory tours, often with us. They have been on avalanche courses. Some people have been on UCPA courses, which can be better value for money because you are not on a guide-led course.
How do you work out the amount of the award?
It is not a fixed amount, but it turns out generally to be similar. Going on a week’s course or going on an introductory tour, we give £200 or £300. Maybe less than that if it is a course in Scotland.
Where does this money come from?
Originally it comes from a fund set up from legacies left to the club or money given to the club in memory of younger members who died in the Alps. Now we tend to top it up, because returns on investments are so variable.
The decision is made by the grants subcommittee?
Yes, it is more or less the same as the touring committee. There is about half a dozen people on it, all of whom have strong opinions!
The 2017 ESC Memorial Fund Awards went towards
- Off Piste Course, Scotland
- Introductory Ski Touring, Glenmore Lodge 5 day
- Introductory Ski Touring, Glenmore Lodge weekend
- Avalanche Course, Glenmore Lodge
- Off-Piste Course, Chamonix
- Chamex Avalanche Course
- Eagle Ski Club Introductory Tour to the Gran Paradiso
“As a keen alpine skier I have known for a while now that I needed to try ski touring but also knew that I wanted proper instruction and teaching.. As a student, this weekend would have been impossible without ESC help.” - George Davidson
“I spend a lot of time walking and climbing, so learning to ski tour is a natural progression to move efficiently through the mountains…. A course was the perfect way to learn all the essential skills” - Matt Harmon