It was a cold and snowy morning on Tuesday, February 16th when A Squadron mounted up on their bus for the two hour drive to Mont Ste-Marie (MSM) for the start of our week-long Basic Winter Warfare exercise. With terrible road conditions and blinding, hard-driving flurries, A Sqn reached MSM in just under 3 hours. Once disembarked from our transportation and after receiving a quick ground orientation to the lay of the land, the soldiers all made their way to their respective tents to begin unpacking and setting up bed spaces. The rest of the day was under our own control and the majority of the troops took to the chalet. As Wednesday dawned, A Sqn was fitted for and instructed on the use of downhill skis, with skill levels ranging from “I’ve never even worn skis” to “Hey, watch this!” By the end of the day, the majority of the Sqn was proficient enough to make it down the intermediate ski hills with the aid of ski instructors from the mountain and a few soldiers who were trained. Thursday morning presented A Sqn with the chance to test out the new cross country skis that are branded the “Jack of all trades” because they are designed for diverse terrain and snow conditions. With a few heavy falls and awkward slips while cross country skiing, the Sqn became quite proficient at moving about. As the Friday morning sun peaked over the treeline and A Sqn roused from another slumber, a full, exciting day of snowshoeing was finally upon us. The route took us around a frozen lake, through heavy woods and even down a rather perilous, yet exciting cliff face.
At 0545 Saturday, February 20th, A Sqn had just finished breakfast and was ready to tackle the mountain trails of MSM. Wet, heavy snowflakes fell from the sky, coating all the soldiers in a white blanket. As we began the ascent, it became abundantly clear that this was going to be a great physical and mental challenge. The incline was steep, the toboggans were fully packed and the rucksacks were gaining weight with every wet snowflake that landed on them. We pressed on, slowly but steadily, stopping only when we had caught up to the elements of D Sqn in front of us… which was a welcome break! It took roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes before the complete Sqn arrived at the top and established camp. Preparations began quickly by stomping and clearing snow; cutting and removing trees and deadfall; pitching the tents; and firing up the stoves and lanterns for warmth and a means of drying our wet kit. The remainder of the day was set aside for drying kit and conducting troop-level lectures on topics such as the construction of winter field defences; camouflage and concealment; and austere shelters. The squadron quartermaster capped off the night with an after dinner visit with hot soup. On Sunday, the Sqn rotated through navigation and casualty evacuation training, which were led by 1 Troop and 3 Troop respectively. An early and extremely cold Monday morning saw the sqn tear down their tents, pack their kit and toboggans. The Sqn soon began, what would end up being, a much quicker descent, reaching the bottom of the mountain in only 25 minutes. After a nice, warm breakfast, the Sqn began changing their clothes, and trading frozen rucks for patrol packs. A Sqn once again wore their cross country skis, grabbed their toboggans and began the 4.5km trek to a frozen lake with our arctic ops advisors. From there a round robin of events took place, including the construction of winter defences, conduct of ice recces, and development of improvised antennas. The day culminated with seeing Maj Maerz, Capt Carruthers and Cpl Joe take the icy plunge into the water for a “through the ice drill.” At the completion of the day’s activities, the Sqn made its way back to base camp to pack and prepare for the next day’s departure. On Tuesday morning the camp was quickly and efficiently torn down. The troops had a BBQ for lunch and departed for base with another great and successful training opportunity completed!