On the final Friday of Michaelmas term every year, Broad Street becomes quite a sight to behold – picture hundreds of exhausted, rather dishevelled students lugging their belongings (or at least the belongings that wouldn’t fit into vac store) onto dozens of awaiting coaches. After all, what better way to unwind and decompress after 8 hectic weeks of deadlines, than 24 hours on a dimly lit, moving vehicle?
Several Netflix series, a bumpy ferry ride and a questionably small amount of service stops later, these students are then deposited in the French Alps. They will be here for a week of skiing, partying and excessive alcohol consumption at high altitude: the coveted annual Oxbridge Varsity Trip has begun.
Ever since the first one was organised in 1922, the ski trip has grown to attract over 3,000 students, ranging from the absolute beginner to the seasoned professional. Given how heavily it is advertised, it comes as no surprise that it is the largest trip of its kind. When I first arrived as a fresher, the Varsity Trip was sold to me as a “complete must” for the Oxford experience, a rite of passage even more important than matriculation.
And so, despite my only experience with snow sports being an alarming familiarity with the movie “Chalet Girl”, I decided to take the plunge and spend a sizeable chunk of my student loan to join my friends in Val Thorens.
Swapping the dreaming spires of Oxford for the glistening snowy landscape of the mountains was a welcome change after an incredibly busy term. The accommodation we were allotted genuinely resembled the picturesque chalets you see on Instagram travel pages and in the movies – as I watched the sun set on the first evening with a glass of wine in hand, the stresses of vac work and internship applications couldn’t have felt further away.
However, those stresses were soon replaced with new ones: the first being my hideously mismatched rental ski gear. As someone who is partial to the occasional OOTD snap, my navy-blue trousers, green boots and red jacket made me feel like quite the ugly duckling when surrounded by countless designer logos on the slopes. Safe to say, I know exactly what will be on my Christmas list this year.
This brings me onto my next problem: the slopes themselves. One thing I’ve observed about Oxbridge students is that they aren’t very good at being ‘bad’ at things, an observation that rang painfully true on the first day of ski lessons. There is quite frankly no worse feeling than watching your friends (all of whom were practically born with skis on their feet) zip past you, as you struggle to move without falling flat on your face.
I will admit that much of the first day was spent crying on the side of slopes and wishing that I’d stayed in Oxford to help with interviews. However, as I was lugging all my equipment up the beginners’ slope with a red, puffy face, a passing snowboarder slowed down and shouted over to me “Don’t worry – the first day is always the worst!”. Looking back, I cannot stress just how right he was.
By the end of the week, I’d gone from struggling to stand up on the flat, to racing down blue slopes with ease. That’s not to say that there weren’t some rather large mishaps along the way – my favourite of which being my crashing into a family’s skis and sending them flying across the slope, as they sat laughing at me on their deck chairs. However, by the final day, I was already looking at flights out to the Alps for the next vac. I still cannot put my finger on it, but there is something so exhilarating and addicting about gliding down the side of a mountain in the snow…
Even for those who didn’t take to skiing quite as much as I did, there was no shortage of things to do. From leaping to collect the free stash that rained down from the balconies at Après, to spending hours playing drinking games with our lovely flatmates from Cambridge, I never once felt at a loose end.
The programme also boasted what appeared to be an immense array of nights out, although these were a bit hit and miss. As much as I love Sigala, there is no pain quite like forking out 5 euros for a tiny glass of wine, only to have it spilt all over you by a mosh pit. And to add insult to injury, the familiar cheesy tunes of Friday Fever that I treasure so dearly were, sadly, nowhere to be seen – in fact, I think I only heard one ABBA song the entire time I was there. But despite making me realise that I have the music taste of a middle-aged woman, those nights out were definitely up there with some of the most memorable of my life – even if the walk back from the club to the chalet proves to be rather difficult when intoxicated!
By the time we boarded the coach on the final day, I was completely and utterly exhausted: it turns out that 5 days of exercise and heavy drinking is not the best thing for your body after 9 weeks at University. However, I can wholeheartedly say that this trip was one of highlights of my time at Oxford so far. It was organised almost seamlessly, everything you needed was accessible on a well-designed app, and the incredibly friendly and hardworking reps made sure that any issues were quickly resolved. And, above all, there was nothing better than being able to spend a week with my friends away from the stress-filled bubble that is Oxford – I am already excited to hit the slopes next year (albeit in slightly more fashionable apparel)!