It's 12.30am at Dover ferry port. Covered in face paint, a student from Manchester University is being held with his arms behind his back, as another tries to pull his trousers down. Two policemen appear. Seeing the police, one lets go, while the other continues to pull at his friend's pants. A policeman coughs. The trouser-puller turns, sees them and makes a swift exit. Welcome to the world of university ski trips.
Every year, hordes of well-heeled class students head to the Alps for a week of sliding down hills and drinking. Traditionally, the bus journey to Dover is so drunken that P&O is compelled to send a letter to everyone on the trips, warning that "no passenger should arrive on board intoxicated beyond control" (as well as reminding them that "nudity, streaking and indecent exposure are unacceptable" too.)
Unfortunately, this year alcohol wasn't allowed on our bus ride. We realised what we had missed out on at Dover, when another university bus pulled alongside our coach and a group of students fell out into a giggling heap on the car park floor. Unsurprisingly, civilian passengers on the boat were not exactly happy to share their voyage with a bunch of hollering drunks, wailing songs by the American band Journey.
Their displeasure was equalled only by those who had the misfortune to book their family skiing holiday in a small resort at the same time as 500 students. In January, many resorts are overwhelmed with students. And the students stand out, not just because of the numbers. This thought struck me as I sat in a restaurant listening to a ski committee member talk about the trip so far while he was completely naked. I wasn't as shocked as I might have been, mainly because I'd seen far more that afternoon during Valley Rally.
Valley Rally is a competition based on a number of challenges. It's party games on the slopes – like building a human pyramid, or passing a sweet between each other without using your hands. It was quite similar to the party games we played in my early teens, with one exception: this time we got extra points for gratuitous nudity. A rule enthusiastically embraced by many despite it being minus 8C, and which led to a rather awkward "Please don't tell our parents" conversation between siblings.
This mixture of immaturity and lewdness seems to sum up ski trips quite well. They might seem like one of the first forays into independent adult life, but really they have more in common with a secondary school trip. The entertainment is laid on. You play party games. Reps come and tell you to stop making noise in your room after 10pm. You're even given a wrist tag with a phone number to call if you get into any trouble. It's just like any Year 8 school trip to France only with booze.