About: Avalanche Endurance Events Founder
The founder of Avalanche Endurance Events and the original Fan Dance Race Series is Ken Jones from Shropshire. He is a former soldier who served with the Parachute Regiment, Royal Marines Commandos and across various elements of UK Special Forces. Ken is a published author, speaker, outdoorsman, mountaineer, keen chess player and a competitive and passionate road cycle racer. Jones is currently the Technical Director of a number of European cycling events and a member of the Directing Staff team for the Fan Dance and Test Week Series. His book, Darkness Descending was published by Quercus in 2014. He now lives in a hilltop Tuscan village with his wife and two children, dividing a much of each year between Elan Valley, Wales and his wife's native San Diego.
Fan Dance Event Origins & The Avalanche Name
You could understand if Ken Jones never wanted to hear the word "avalanche" again. On 5th January 2003 the former Special Forces soldier was caught in a devastating avalanche as he climbed in the frozen wilderness of Romania's Transylvanian Alps. Flung from a cliff, he regained consciousness to find himself shrouded in darkness, separated from his supplies, suffering from over exposure in the sub-zero temperatures and in horrendous pain from a shattered pelvis and broken leg. Heavily frostbitten and bleeding internally, Ken dragged himself to safety over three agonising days only to discover that his true ordeal had yet to begin. Following two years in which he was unable to walk and proving the medical professionals wrong, he not only walks again but is a serious endurance cyclist and still climbs. He also set up a fitness company that trains people hoping to join elite branches of the army which – as if laughing in the face of his ordeal – he called Avalanche Endurance Events.
The Fan Dance Race Series was inspired in great part by Ken's recovery and return to health. Within weeks of being back on two feet former colleagues from the SAS&SBS took a still weak and fragile Jones to Pen y Fan Mountain in the Brecon Beacons, with the intention of getting him around the Fan Dance route, a pivotal, historical and iconic test found on the Special Forces Selection course. Upon reaching the uppermost steps of Jacob's Ladder an utterly exhausted Jones was presented with a stiff celebratory drink and a small winged dagger tie pin to commemorate the experience and the a potent and symbolic extent of his recovery against the odds. There the idea was born.
Words From Ken Jones
I have travelled far and wide, as a professional soldier, climber, bike racer, explorer and broke student backpacker, but the Welsh mountains, especially the Brecon Beacons and the green desert-like Elan Valley, have always held a special appeal for me. As a young boy I stared in awe at old black and white photographs of soldiers marching over misty summits, rifles in hand and packs on their back. Little did I know all those years later, as a young man, I'd be marching over the same mountain peaks as a candidate on SAS &SBS Selection. Even though it was tough going, I always appreciated their beauty and ruggedness and what they had to offer. I had after all grown up around the mountains and felt something of them was ingrained into my character's verve for the outdoor life and the natural world.
I still go back every time I return to the UK, not just because I feel I'm going back to my roots, but because the Beacons in particular have always been a testing ground for me. I still remember my first attempt at the Fan Dance after learning to walk again and it was whilst slogging my way back up Jacob's ladder, legs on fire and fighting for breath, it occurred to me that this was an experience and a test quite unlike anything else. In those moments I wanted to share the essential beauty and suffering of the route that had determined the fate of so many young men in search of something out of the ordinary. Back in Brecon town, over a Guinness and a Sunday lunch I decided to organise a race along the same route. Not just any race, one that would be faithful to the famed and rigorous traditions of SAS Selection."
My own military career was cut devastatingly short but the old army adage of improvise, "adapt and overcome" has served me just as well in civilian life as it did during my military career. With a positive outlook, determination, and the ability to adapt to and embrace change I've been able to accept that life as I once knew it was over and that the world and life still had so much to offer. Those six months lying in a hospital bed, uncertain if I would walk again or even live during the early stages gave me a lot of time to think and get to know myself better. Throughout my ordeal I held onto a glimmer of hope, and with that I was able to achieve so much and make meaningful progress. I'm still nostalgic about my time in military but that and passion have been manifested into the Fan Dance which has now evolved beyond my wildest expectations and established itself as one of the most demanding, popular and prestigious events on the UK endurance calendar. On a personal level, the great beauty of the event is that it has revived so many memories and provided a golden opportunity for so many of my former military colleagues and good friends to get back together, where I might not otherwise see them, or certainly not with such frequency. Above all else I am for that grateful and know that the lure of Pen y Fan will always prove irresistible to those I served alongside, just as it is to the Fan Dance faithful who support the march. Beyond that, the other great joy is the special bread of people the Fan Dance seems to attract. I don't believe there's any other event in the UK that has such a strong sense of togetherness and camaraderie, the atmosphere is special and without doubt unrivalled on every level. In spite of the considerable demands of this formidable test, the attrition rate is remarkably low and we think that is down to an awareness of the distinct and profound heritage of the Fan Dance and what it represents in terms of following in the footsteps of a history of young men in search of something out of the ordinary.
As the Fan Dance grows ever more successful the influence of my fellow Directing Staff grows ever stronger and we have been able to step up our own game and venture into the realms of the SAS&SBS Test March series; the six almost mythical challenges that are more feats of human endeavour than a race, and without doubt our very best events. It's the most humbling thing to receive the support and expertise of former colleagues, who stand behind my original vision in spite of my position as being the least experienced member on the team. Their support and contribution also liberates me to concentrate on my other great passion of cycle racing and as Technical Director of a series of European cycling endurance events.
I look forward to seeing you at the iconic old red phone box which marks the start line of the Fan Dance or at the most unlikely and least conspicuous finish line in the world of endurance challenges on the test march series. Remember, the absolute minimum required standard will always be extremely high and that should serve as a template to success for us as an organisation and all who join us for the original Special Forces challenges.
For speaking engagements and corporate event inquiries please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Proud to support and donate to Brecon and CBMRT Mountain Rescue Teams, the 100 Peaks Challenge (The Soldier's Charity & ABF), The Pilgrims Bandits, The True Grit Initiative, and the Friends of Storey Arms Project for disadvantaged children. A special tribute to Support Our Paras, the official Parachute Regiment Charity and home of the UK's original military challenge, the legendary Paras 10.