Downhill all the way?

This year’s Varsity Ski Trip got off to a slightly ‘rocky’ start. Snowfall in Val Thorrens was at a record low and jokes were rife amongst students who were boasting that they hadn’t paid £500 to go on a Varsity Hill walking trip. It was with some nervousness, then, that I boarded a 12:30 am coach on Broad Street to begin the 18-hour trip to the Alps.

Besides the 4 am ferry crossing, and a small boy throwing up into a bag tenuously placed on top of my friend’s coat, it was one of the easiest coach trips of my life (although definitely helped along by a terms worth of sleep to catch up on). As one of the last coaches to arrive in the resort, we were rushed through the planned cheap hypermarket stop at the bottom of the mountain – our coach rep helpfully informs us that “it’s closing in 10 minutes guys so treat this as a kind of supermarket sweep.” Cue hundreds of students flocking to an already dilapidated alcohol aisle, where we were faced with absolutely no vodka to be seen. The cheers amongst our group are near hysterical when a girl comes running with bottles of Bacardi.

We finally get into Val Thorens at around 20:00 – some of the latest – and as I look out of the coach window…there is definitely grass.  It is all made a little bit worse when the equipment shops are not taking any more people as we trek up there, so the more keen amongst us agree to get up super early in order to get a full day’s skiing. We therefore resolve to get an early night and return to our apartment in Temple Du Soleil (a block of self-catered apartments where a large proportion of students end up) and have the first of many pasta-based dinners. The next day we make it out to the slopes with all our equipment early morning, I’ve arrogantly decided to go for a snowboard dismissing the snow as not good enough.

After a morning spent mostly on our bums, my friend and I decided to cut our loses and head down to ‘Varcity,’ the slope hangout for the week. Set up at bar 360 at the bottom of a blue slope, ‘Varcity’ entails an outside seating area and DJ decks. I mistakenly engage in queuing for the ‘free hamburgers’ promised. Not since being at the front of the crowd for Kings of Leon at Reading ’07 have I been in such a mosh pit. Ski helmets, gloves and limbs are everywhere as the queue descends into anarchy and the free burgers are nowhere to be seen. Staff attempt in vain to contain the mass. Slight amusement is provided in the form of some Jack Wills rep, who is on plain view to the queue from the stage area, and despite his best efforts to look cool whilst dancing…doesn’t. When I finally manage to get my hamburger, it proceeds to vomit salad cream all over my clothes (and definitely wasn’t worth the forty minute wait).

Still, at least I’m just in time for the promised entertainment… Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, who is supposed to kick off the week with a buzzing set. What follows, however, is closer to aural rape than anything else…and not because the music is bad but because this man has one of the filthiest mouths I’ve heard in a long time (including all the talk that I’ve heard on crew dates). Questions such as “Do you like your mum?” and “Is your pussy clean?” lead one of my male friends turns to ask “why is he mentioning clean pussies and mums in the same sentence?” In between dancing we all seem to awkwardly turn to each other in bewilderment at Westwood’s comments, whose other gems included “all the ugly people fuck off” and “girls who brought their boyfriends…you can fuck off.” I can feel myself turning into a prim forty-something mother but Tim Westwood is just plain offensive and sexist…and old enough to be all of our dads. Judging by discussions later on in the day, I’m one of many to feel this way.

The opening night party goes some way to remedying the Westwood blunder – an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed party, with giant plastic bunny rabbits – it’s all very well done and quite overwhelming – particularly after a few drinks at altitude – but DJ Fresh pulls out a good set and most people seem happy. It’s only at the end of the night when the queue for the cloakroom looks to entail just about all 3,000 people on the trip that things go slightly down the rabbit hole – not the happiest forty minutes I’ve ever spent.

Monday passes fairly uneventfully – with a good dumping of snow overnight, the grass is thankfully less visible. I’ve booked into the mountain meal – which is what it says on the ticket, a meal at a slope-based restaurant and a torchlight descent. We are again all faced by a lengthy queue in the freezing cold before we manage to get into the restaurant. It takes a long while for all the food to arrive but luckily a large amount of wine is provided: “just drink” suggests one of the staff when we ask where the food is – probably hoping that we’ll all be too drunk to notice when it does arrive. Some of my friends try cooking the meat (for a meat fondue) on the naked flame of the cooker placed on our table but un-surprisingly inform us that it tastes quite ‘bad’. The cooking pot for the meat eventually arrives, but we unfortunately have a slight mishap with our set, which involves it basically setting on fire and a waiter hurriedly running out of the restaurant to throw it in the snow. At the end of the meal we are faced with the ‘torchlight descent’ which involves getting your skis back on and a few people in your group being given flaming torches (sticks with alight cotton wool on the end) and skiing down a blue slope to the bottom – we are luckily all too merry to realize the disastrous prospect of skiing with fire and happily we all manage it down the slope in one piece.

The rest of the week passes relatively quickly, interrupted with visits to the large underground nightclub ‘Malaysia’, which hosts many of the Varsity nights out. Skiing conditions improve immensely on the Thursday, which is also the final night party. It is themed ‘Radioactive’ and we are all given boiler suits to wear over our clothes. They manage to look equally unflattering on everyone, but again, a few après ski drinks sort out any vanity issues I had. The final night lineup is Ms. Dynamite and Basement Jaxx – and of course a thousand or so people in boiler suits. We arrive at 11pm – but like all Oxford nights out, quickly discover we should have come earlier – Ms. Dynamite has been and gone and Basement Jaxx are well into their set. The night seems to go well and luckily all coatroom nightmares seen on the first night seem to have been remedied.

Then somehow it’s Friday and I find myself trudging my skis back to the rental shop and getting on the coach to face the nearly twenty hour ride back. We arrive at the London stop ‘Hatton Cross’ (near Heathrow) at 14:00 the next day and I get on the tube along with many other bleary eyed students to the prospect of home and hopefully a meal that doesn’t involve either pasta or bread.

As a first-time Varsityer and in spite of a few glitches, I had one of the best weeks I’ve had at my time at Oxford (albeit this was in the French Alps). One of my friends is calling it “the best week of my life” – and whilst I’m not sure I’d go that far; the opportunity to hang out with my friends (and make new ones) in a setting so removed from the dreaming spires is literally a breath of fresh air. The skiing wasn’t the greatest – but the strength of the trip is that it doesn’t entirely rely on the snow. The presence of ‘the other place’ on the slopes also adds to the atmosphere, although there is far less light vs dark blue ‘banter’ than I’d expected. In conclusion, I’d definitely go again, although I might avoid the fire plagued mountain meal next time…and almost definitely Tim Westwood.

PHOTO/ Andrew Campbell-Black