It is cold and expensive. The air is thin and I smell chips. I wish I was writing about Hassans, or even the Christmas market. Instead, I have decided to parallel turn through the delightfully tiring Varsity ski trip. Someone’s wonderful idea a century ago to plonk 3000 academically exhausted Oxbridge students in the egotistically expensive French alps, amidst altitude enhanced drinking and snow capped chalets seems a far cry from the scholarly ethic of Oxford’s founding premise. Yet as I find myself an apt fondness through my rose tinted ski goggles in which I reflect, some realities must be established.
From the outset, the odds are against you. Whether it be twenty-two hour coach journeys, the faceless faux pas of room allocations or the twistingly tight ski-boots, not everything goes to plan. Perhaps of greatest worry was the moshed squeeze of the Val Thoren’s sports hall turned music venue, which became a glorified school disco with similarly immature antics. Of course, the food is expensive, and the locals generally hostile – this is France after all. The bouncers posit a glaring distrust at every aspect of your obviously intoxicated behaviour (the altitude is your best excuse), and the morning chairlifts are littered with incurable hangovers. So too is the ski back from après raucously rogue, as a combination of the winter dark, mulled wine, and adrenaline fuelled first-timers ensure a need for alerted swerves to avoid falling into those infront. And to top it all off, you seem to return home with more diseases than that of a Lads trip to Magaluf.
But beyond these grumblings, I cannot deny it to be a delightfully fun trip. Attempting to keep yourself alive on a diet of nothing but pasta, baguette, wine and vodka does make for a splendid holiday. The views are suitably spectacular, and the company ever brilliant. Being in France has some advantages; the supermarket wine is only 2 euros, and yet can outdo Zesty White with relative ease. The skiing is certainly a boon, as wading through powder like an economics student soon becomes an effortless joy. Even the reps are surprisingly helpful and seemed to solve almost everything that came their way.
Of course, for those left behind the fomo sets in. Your college aunt is there. So is that loud fresher. Even Tinie Tempah seems to have made the trek (although as most could attest, they could have just done a set of his greatest hits). Social media becomes clogged with the bright lights of alcohol fuelled, altitude enhanced après ski. You wonder how those who can’t even dance in Bridge can do so in ski boots. And so for those who didn’t go, perhaps the best way to think about the varsity trip is simply not to think of it at all.
But in my unserious fashion, I hit a serious point. The varsity trip lends itself to the societal exclusivity of skiing, and the sheer brashness of cost defines it in financially exclusive terms. Those in the privileged position to have skied before flourish, others just about make it to après (although not back), and those who can’t are simply left out. But I tread on thin glacial ice – I am guilty of the very crimes I decry. I enjoy the privileged position of partaking in the trip, and plan to return next year. And so, whilst I cannot help myself but question its social exclusivity, I knowingly contribute to the phenomenon, and cannot remove myself from this.
I can say quite openly I enjoyed myself. The company was excellent, I met plenty of new faces, and even managed to avoid severe sunburn. As any bored writer will, I can grumble on and on, but all this really misses the point. It is not meant to be a luxurious week on the alps, but a memory making bonanza, with suitably punishing antics to accompany. Perhaps this is my open letter to the committee to let me return, and continue the good work, or even for me to undertake an introspective understanding of my hypocrisy. Either way, I seem to reach the same conclusion – sure, the trip is pretentious prancing about, but there is nothing else I’d rather do with my Michaelmas 9th week.
Image Credit: Milo Dennison