Varsity Ski Trip: a downhill slope?

There is nothing like finishing term and starting the Christmas festivities than getting stuffed onto a musty old coach for twenty-something hours

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A snowy landscape taken from a ski slope. To the right is a cluster of buildings.
Source: Oliver Donaldson

With all the brightly coloured ski-jackets and loaded *soft-shell* suitcases streaming down Broad Street late on Friday of 8th week, it’s hard to curb the enthusiasm that emanates from this pilgrimage. But if anything can puncture the palpable excitement of a week’s skiing with your friends (AND the end of term), getting stuffed onto a musty old coach for twenty-something hours will do the trick. The coveted Varsity ski trip is full of these ups and downs, making you wonder whether it was all worth the money.

Indeed, the coach journey provides an immediate and rigorous test of your conviction: inevitably the student in front of you is that one person in the whole coach who has the audacity to lean their seat back, and the one sitting behind you has taken it upon themselves to eat Pringles as loudly as humanly possible. Yet rather than ever actually complaining, you huff passive-aggressively, stick your headphones in and try (unsuccessfully) to sleep. The rest of the journey is spent carefully rationing your rapidly dwindling data plan and short battery life, bemoaning the absence of a charging point, all the while dreaming of the experiences that lie ahead.

When you finally arrive at your destination, this year being Val Thorens, the late-evening sun glinting off the snow-capped mountains, your sense of optimism is restored. Everything from now on is going to be seamless and stress-free…then you find yourself in the ski-hire shop. Having endured the ceaseless queueing and the spikey glances of an agitated French store assistant, you are bundled off with your skis, ski poles, and ill-fitting boots, still querying if there’s actually any difference between the bronze, silver, gold and platinum options.

When you finally get on the slopes, you realise that skiing (great fun though it is) is almost entirely oriented around style. It’s all for show: skiers sashaying down the slope with over-exaggerated leg movements, pretending they’re not doing it just to impress those in the chairlifts that pass overhead. More confident skiers (effectively everyone) do away with helmets and goggles entirely, cruising down effortlessly in their Ray-Ban Clubmasters or their rave shades before après has even started.

Student skiing apparel appears to be afflicted by the paradox of wanting to stand out and be distinctive, but “only if there’s a group of us doing it”. By the end of the week there seems to be an official jacket for almost anything: NUCO rep jackets, college rep jackets, Ski Trip committee jackets, Oxford ski team jackets, Cambridge ski team jackets, college puffer jackets, and every other person wearing a North Face jacket. Even the festively worn Santa and elf costumes become a uniform of sorts. However, if miraculously you haven’t skied before and the slopes are a matter of survival rather than style, the whole ordeal is rendered rather embarrassing by all your friends who have been able to ski since before they could walk and treat the slopes like a catwalk. 

At least après offers some respite where you can let your hair down with your mates after a long day of skiing…right? Not if you’re standing next to some loon who enjoys moshing to house music in their ski boots and will claw your eyes out for a free snood.

In fact, you quickly find out that all the “free” t-shirts, food and drink are not at all free, but cost a painful, painful price. To win a prized varsity trip t-shirt you must somehow summon the power to rise, like a salmon, majestically from the frothing maelstrom, and pluck one from the sky as your competitors slash and rake at you from all sides. The food-and-drink queue, on the other hand, is as stern a test as any of your will and resolve to wait out a good deal of the afternoon for a soggy hot dog and half a cup of mulled wine. 

This may seem like a poor advertisement of the ski trip, but it’s just the same as any holiday isn’t it? There’s a lot of faff and most of the time you question whether all the money spent was worth it. But at the end of it all you choose to look back on the good moments, and even the bad moments become good memories…or at least amusing ones. 

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