5th Week escapism: Snowballing out of control in the Alps

Student Life

For those who have never been exposed to winter sports, I expect it is sometimes difficult to see the appeal. Why, I hear the mountain-virgins cry, would anyone voluntarily wake up before 9am on holiday just so they can subject themselves to sub-zero temperatures and precipitation of every variety (how can it rain when it is -5˚C?!)?  Whilst I can appreciate that skiing is not everybody’s cup of glühwein, for me there are few sensations more liberating than carving through fresh snow with mountain air filling my lungs.

But, of course, a skiing holiday is not just about the skiing. I have noticed over the years that winter breaks have certain characteristics that differentiate them from all other genres of holiday.

Each trip to the Alps has its fair share of idiosyncratic events that, in their retelling, unite skiers regardless of ability, experience or colour of salopettes. Any non-skier readers may at this point raise a sceptic eyebrow; bear with me as I outline some of the many (and often hilarious) off-piste dramas that skiing holidays have to offer.

A major consideration of any holiday is transport. Nowhere is the choice between plane, train and automobile more of a headache than when one is travelling to the mountain. Those who choose to fly to their destination will invariably end up sitting on the floor of a departure lounge at some forgotten hour as their plane is dug out of a snowdrift. Train aficionados will have to develop an immunity to fluorescent lighting if they wish to get any shut-eye on their 8 hour ‘sleeper’. And those who opt for the trusty car soon discover that in the mountains a car is only trusty if it equipped with snow tyres and chains, a giant shovel on the front and is in fact called a piste-basher. In any case, the journey to a ski resort inevitably ends up involving all three modes of transport with a bonus shuttle bus thrown in for good measure.

Having wrestled various travel arrangements and emerged victorious, a prime concern for a winter holidaymaker is what to wear. Ski resorts have their own set of fashion laws which are unique to them – where else can you successfully rock an outfit featuring all three primary colours in their most garish manifestations? Skiing is also a great excuse to flaunt retro fashions; from salopettes-cum-60s-flares to old school jerseys, in the mountain there is no such thing as an anachronism. Just remember the dangers of salopettes with braces if you are cursed with a weak bladder.

Ski resorts have their own set of fashion laws which are unique to them

Clothes chosen, it’s time to turn to accessories. A problem experienced by all who frequent the mountain, whether skier or not, is the dreaded hat and/or helmet hair. One witnesses various techniques employed in an attempt to fix the lid, including French plaits, repeated fluffing of the hair with the hand and just plain refusal to remove said headwear. Naturally, striking the correct balance between style and practicality remains an elusive goal for most skiers.

Skiing is hard work and such physical exertion must not go unrewarded. Food is therefore a very prominent aspect of any mountain holiday. Mountain cuisine apparently consists of three core ingredients: meat, cheese and carbs. Fondue, raclette, spag bol, croissants, schnitzel – all just variations on a theme of these three staples. When it comes to beverages, the choice between chocolat chaud and glühwein is a toughie, but what liquid you don’t end up spilling on your white thermals will inevitably scald your mouth in your haste to defrost your core, so in the end the decision probably doesn’t matter.

What liquid you don’t end up spilling on your white thermals will inevitably scald your mouth

The final slushy ski run of a holiday is a physical and emotional comedown. It signifies not only a whole year until the next donning of those happily uncomfortable boots, but also a whole year until indulging in all the quirks that are so particular to a skiing holiday. For those of you have found yourself inadvertently nodding along whilst reading, enjoy reminiscing about all the oddities that skiing trips entail. And, as for any winter holiday virgins, I hope I have inspired you to jump on that funicular and go experience the many mountainside moments that await you.

PHOTO/David Domingo

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