EIA 2024 – The Diary

As we wrap up another incredible Everest in the Alps event, our teams have so much to be proud of and a lot of amazing memories to look back on. Will Newbery of Team Tenzing shares what it was like to take part in EIA 2024. 

“We could see the top, the flags, Charlotte waiting with the Champagne. Crossing the line with Tom and Mike was the best finish-line-feeling ever. I have completed a few races in my time and most come with the odd tear in my eyes. But this one was so much more.”

Team Tenzing

I was fortunate to have skied since I was quite young; I have memories of bombing down the Hahnenkamm when I was five – however, I had ingested quite a lot of chocolate cigarettes on the bus journey there, so I wouldn’t take my word as gospel, I imagine I was probably rubbish. School ski trips followed, before I decided that snowboarding looked fun and regular holidays to the Alps followed. After a ski season, my trips dried up, and it wasn’t until my son was old enough to carry his own skis that I strapped a pair of skis onto my feet again, rather than a board. In the last couple of years, I rekindled my love for the sideways slide and my love for the white stuff was well and truly re-established.

At the beginning of January, when chatting to one of my athletes and good friends Tom, he mentioned that he was doing Everest in The Alps and asked if I wanted to do it, too. I said “Sure, when is it?” to which he replied, “End of February, this year.” Notice that I didn’t actually ask Tom “What is it?” …  I did a bit of research and half of me was petrified. “The toughest four days on skis”, “35 hours of skiing, of which three are spent coming down” “Three back to back marathons” – I found lots of eye-catching headlines that are probably designed to make you spend quite a lot of time training, which I didn’t have much of! The word Everest should have probably been enough for me to stop and think twice. But I was in need of a challenge…

I spoke to the EIA team who were awesome and started to research the type of training I should be doing – my endurance is good, my strength is ok, but my flexibility is pretty poor! I decided to carry a weighted rucksack on dog walks, run up hills – outside and on a treadmill – and came up with some pretty brutal HIIT-style training sessions that left me in a bit of a mess. My aim was to get used to being uncomfortable and then keep going, a theme that I thought would be useful in the mountains in a matter of weeks.

Prep Day

Fast forward to Monday 26th Feb. Our meet-the-team-and-have-a-go day AKA the last day that I could remember what day it was and the last time I had decent coffee and vegetables for a few days! I used Mountain Air (as recommended by the EIA team) to hire my kit – touring skis, skins, crampons, poles, boots. They were very helpful, and when being fitted they commented on my funky feet and did their best to hide smirks when I said I hadn’t ever ski toured before! They were encouraging nevertheless and wished us well.

Rob Ritchie, the genius behind EIA, gave a talk which was so inspiring. We all had our own reasons for being there, but the biggest was to raise money and awareness for charity. Rob’s son, Toby, is affected by a brain tumour and the event has so far raised £5million for The Brain Tumour Charity. Tom, myself, and our teammate Mike (AKA Team Tenzing), were raising money for Julia’s House, a local children’s hospice that provides vital support to families with terminally ill children. Both Tom and I have a strong attachment to Julia’s House, and we were very much looking forward to being able to give back to them.

After the event, team leader, Paul, told us the specifics and it was time to have a go ourselves. The skins went on with the minimum of fuss… or not! Eventually, we stepped our way up the slopes, to be told we need to sliiiiide. Think of it as a reverse Moonwalk. Trusting the carpet stuck to the skis was tricky at first, but we got used to it. An hour later we came to a stop. Sweating already. In the afternoon, we practised kick turns, using our crampons, and taking our skins on and off. We were reminded to make sure the ski brakes were always applied, and one of us (no one in Team Tenzing, surprisingly) forgot – a ski shot off down the slope, avoiding all the rocks and tree stumps, and disappeared over the edge. Lots of laughter ensued; the ice was broken and the tone was set. This was going to be a great week.

At the end of the day, we made our way to our hotel and packed our bags. This proved trickier than it sounds – we only had 20 litres to fit four days of kit into. I went for the “I am going to stink but not be hungry” approach and packed four pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, two base layers, two t-shirts, a fleece, hat, goggles, two pairs of gloves, goggles, glasses, toothbrush/toothpaste, sleeping bag liner, towel, and enough Fruit & Nuts, Toblerones, M&Ms and Precision Hydration chews and electrolyte tabs to feed an army!

Day One – Tuesday

Alarms were set for 5am for a 6am meet and we get to the meet point bang on time. Team Weekend Warrior (biggest understatement of the week – those guys were monsters) were just setting off. Goosebumps. Not sure if that was because of the emotion or the fact that I took Rob’s words of “Be bold, start cold” too literally. Hugs all round and then it was time for Teams Syren and Tenzing (plus our adopted team mate, Greg) to start. Now, it should be noted that even though we had team names this was truly not a competitive trip…ish. We set off – the mood was high, and the pace was quick. With Rob, Rob, Paul, and Martin all there to reign us in, the pace settled and by about 11am we had already climbed 1,000m. Time to come downhill. No real issues there, other than being left for dead by everyone who were loving the chance to come downhill! Tom and I snowploughed our way down and made it safely to the rendezvous and started putting the skins back on. A couple of points here.

  • Touring skis are super light. They are awesome at going up, but chatter and skid around like the cast of Tokyo Drift.
  • While the boots are super flexible on the way up – there is no getting away from the fact that when you crank them up, they are ski boots and not a patch on the crocs waiting for us at the cabin.

As the day went on, our efficiency got better. Not just at the transitioning from uphill to downhill mode (and vice versa) but also how we moved. Goldilocks Pace – not too quickly, not too slowly. Just right. Rob, Paul, and Martin kept the group together well – no one felt pressured to hurry and the faster members of the group were not waiting too long.

As we approached the end of day one, and the light started to fade, we caught sight of the cabin for the first time; standing proud like a castle, our home for the next three nights. It was at this moment that Greg had a tumble. In the 24 hours of knowing him, I knew that he wasn’t fooling around – he was holding his ribs and was in a bit of discomfort. Paul and the crew stepped in and got him back to the cabin safely but. unfortunately, that was his trip over. We were all gutted for him.

The cabin was bliss. In fact, taking the boots off was bliss! But the cabin was perfect, too. Our hosts greeted us with towels and shower tokens – two minutes of heaven before supper. It felt like two hours. Dinner, a cold beer, a game of cards and then bed.

Day Two – Wednesday

We set our alarms for 5:45am to get up and ready for the day ahead. To say I slept well wouldn’t be exactly the truth. But as with everything, we were all in the same boat and there was no point in complaining.  We chose to do this. We were doing this to raise money for those in far worse condition than us, for those who are unable to do this. After a quick coffee and croissant it was boots on, coat off (sticking with the “be bold, start cold” mantra) and point the skis up. Our first ascent of a climb that, over the next couple days, we would get to know very well. And then it hit me – where was everyone? There was an eery silence. The familiar scrunching of snow and brushing of skins across the groomed piste and nothing else. It was 6:45am and for the next three hours we had the area to ourselves. Our first 500m of climbing was done within two hours. Good timing. The familiar action of going from uphill to downhill – coat and gloves on; skins off and into the rucksack; hat and goggles on; boots into downhill mode; skis on. A beautiful 24 minute descent. No one around. Fresh air. 11 people spread out over the piste.

My tactic of point and go was standing me in good stead. But deep down, I loved the uphill more! It was a chance to chat, admire the scenery and get a sweat on. Up the other side of the hill and then down on a gondola. Bliss. And then a 90 minute climb to lunch. The food in Verbier is possibly the best mountain food I have had. Maybe it was because we had well and truly earned it. 1,000m by lunchtime. We were getting it done! Carrying on with the uphill theme after lunch was welcome, especially as the sun was starting to appear. The mood was good. Spirits were high and I was discovering what kind of pizza topping everyone liked the best (not many votes for pineapple).

I was getting my bearings by now. Down past the cabin with the sun lowering in the sky. Despite our good speed today we had to make one more ascent of about 400m to get our quota for the day. Up past the cabin and a push to the top to get sunset in. As we turned around what we saw left us speechless and there are no words that could describe it.

Day Three – Thursday

We had been warned about day three. Our resolve was set to be tested. After a sleep and some food, we were up and ready to go. Today was just about getting it done. Nothing flashy. Nothing dramatic or fancy. Up and down the same (or similar) route four or five times. Boots and skis set to uphill mode, staying bold and starting cold, we left the comfort of the cabin to a perfect clear morning – it was a bit breezy, but manageable. This is where the data geek/analyst kicked in. Climb one – 2.9km, 440m elevation – 70 minutes: seriously good pace. It was about 8am and the whole area was so peaceful. Our first (and, ideally, penultimate) ski down of the day. Climb two – 3.2km, just under 600m elevation – 1 hour 30 minutes: just a bit slower than the first climb. We were due to get the cable car down from here on, however, with the wind it was shut and so after a coffee, we skied down, joining the masses in the process. Climb three – 3.2km, just under 600m elevation – 1 hour 48 minutes: quite a chunk slower. We headed to lunch. Bodies were starting to falter. Feet were sore, backs were painful. Lunch was a quiet affair. But they were the best burgers. Time to crack on.

Luckily, the lift was open for this descent, I think I might have shed a tear if I had to ski down. It must have been about 4pm as the pistes were starting to get quiet. One big effort. Head down. Focus on the skis ahead. Find out what people’s favourite roast dinner is. Munch on Will’s trail mix. Offer others said trail mix. Keep hydrated. Stop for a rest and a catch up. Get going again. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. It was at about 5.30pm that I wondered if I was going to make it. Tom had decided to break tradition and head straight up the piste rather than take the Caterpillar Track. Rob advised him not to… he didn’t get far! The sun was setting over our shoulders and I started to think about why we were doing this again. Children going through unimaginable pain, families doing their best to help their loved ones whilst going through their own struggles. And here I was complaining about sore feet. Get on with it Will. And I did exactly that. Got on with it.

Climb four – 4.3km, 610 meters, 1 hour 50 minutes. Nailed it. And then we were told we had a bit more to do. Efficiency was key, and we pulled off quite possibly our quickest transition as a team. We were a well-oiled machine by now. The final ascent was only half an hour, 1km long and about 200m. It was dark. The sun had set and our headtorches were seeing action. But we still had work to do. Down for the last time of the day to the cabin. Take our boots off and take the liners out to try to dry them. Hang the skins up. Jump in the shower and put our cabin clothes on. I managed to squeeze in a massage with the amazing Charlotte, who released my weary muscles. Beers were ordered and we sat down for the best meal. Pasta, tomato sauce and VEGETABLES – pure bliss. A few games of cards and upstairs to pack. We were leaving early the next day and wouldn’t be returning to the cabin. We said our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and dragged our aching bodies upstairs.

Day four – friday

The order of the day was simple: a little up, a long down and then one climb. We woke to fresh snow on the ground, and it was falling gently. The mantra of “be bold, start cold” was tested. I kept my coat on.

Going up in fresh snow is a lot harder, or maybe it was the 20 hours of exercise in the past three days. It was even quieter than before. No wind. Just hush. After the short climb, we sheltered under a lift and I could sense that others were pumped for the downhill coming. I was longing for my snowboard to get a few fresh tracks, but I had to make do with skis! It was awesome. Skiing in 20cm of fresh snow on piste with no one around is something truly wonderful. I was even complimented on my ability – that’s a first for sure! We descended about 850 metres, and it was time to grind out the last climb of the day. The final details were just under 8km, 3 hours 54 in total and 1,250m climbing. Our pace was as good as it had been all week, but the terrain was tough. Short traverses in heavy snow, our newly learned skills were being severely tested.

After lunch, we split into our two teams. We got news that the Weekend Warriors had completed their quest before lunch and were on their way down to the town. It must be said that at no point did we feel that the teams were separate, they were just subdivisions. We celebrated each other as much as we could and we encouraged and supported everyone. We helped pack bags, take skins off and put them on. We shared food and a lot of laughs.

The snow was still falling as we started after lunch. Our last 90 minutes, the final 500 metres of climbing. We could see the top, the flags, Charlotte waiting with the Champagne. Crossing the line with Tom and Mike was the best finish line feeling ever. I have completed a few races in my time and most come with the odd tear in my eyes. But this one was so much more. To go through such an amazing achievement with two fantastic friends is the best feeling ever. To make new friends along the way is a massive bonus. I couldn’t have wished for better company for the whole week. As we sprayed and drank the celebratory Champagne, we knew that words couldn’t ever really describe our feeling right then and we would find it hard to convey to others what it was like. You will just have to sign up to find out! But what I can say is Everest in the Alps gives you self belief – when you think you can’t keep going, there is always someone there to say “Come on, I am with you.”

The team were amazing. Rob, Paul, Martin, Gabriel, Charlotte. Thank you. Each and every one of you helped us get to the finish line. Your professionalism stood out and we are all eternally grateful to have had the experience in your presence.

And yes, the after party was amazing!

Team Tenzing completed Everest in the Alps to raise money for Julia’s House, a children’s hospice in Dorset and Wiltshire.

You can still support them below:


Phillipa Smith