Head for the hills: Instructor Warren Smith gives students at his ski school a pep talk on the slopes

University trips are the cheapest way to have an unforgettable

Destinations confirmed, tickets booked and novelty sunglasses ordered; resorts across the Alps are preparing themselves, and overwrought students up and down the country are counting down the days until the end of term and the annual university snowsports trip. Last season saw 25,000 students take to the slopes and this year looks to be just as big, with big trips like the 2014 Oxford and Cambridge Varsity trip already selling out.

It’s easy to see why. As Sam Burnell, president of the Varsity Trip, the world’s oldest and largest student snowsports trip says: "It’s a fantastic opportunity for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities to get together and enjoy everything the mountains have to offer."

He’s right. As a participant and as a holiday rep for student ski trips, I’ve experienced these trips from a variety of perspectives. I’ve seen beginners desperately trying to carry their equipment to their first lessons. I’ve seen students who’ve been practically raised in the mountains, students who haven’t skied since their school trip in year seven and students who will use their newfound way of transport to effectively convey them from one hot chocolate stop to another and who, come mid-afternoon, will stop skiing altogether in favour of a warm glass of après-ski vin chaud.

Anyone who has been on these trips will tell you that participants have a good time and that their behaviour is generally harmless. It's unsurprising therefore that anyone who has been on one of these trips is likely to be frustrated by the reputation of student snowsports trips as little more than lads' holidays with the novelty addition of snow. The Telegraph has labelled student snowsports holidays "the absolute worst", and described scenes of Jagermeister-fuelled, onesie-clad students before coming to the conclusion that the participants were ‘hell bent’ on enjoying a week of "debauchery and excess" and nothing more. Now, a new series of Snow, Sex and Suspicious Parents has returned to BBC 3, and its scenes of teenagers and twenty-somethings misbehaving in mountains hardly help the negative attention these trips, and us students who take part in them, tend to receive. 

Sadly, the media tends to conveniently misunderstand that these scenes of debauchery do not reflect the average experience of a student ski trip participant. Rather, the events that are reported tend to be no more than the actions of a tiny minority. Emmy-Claire Johnson, a student from Edinburgh University, has witnessed student ski trips from multiple angles, skiing competitively for her university, and working as a rep for a both a trip and a company. She attributes inappropriate behaviour to small groups of individuals, rather than student groups as a whole. In her experience, “from time to time animals go on a trip and make a bad name for us all”.

For Emmy, the party scene is only a small part of what the trips are about. “For me, it’s more about spending your days in snowy mountains with likeminded people- there’s nothing like it” she says.

Sam Burnell agrees. “Everyone is free to ski and to party as much or as little as they want”, he says. “On my first Varsity Trip, partying barely formed an element of my week, I went to ski and ski I did.”

Like Sam and Emmy, most students who take part in these trips go, first and foremost, to ski or snowboard, and student snowsports trips can make this possible. With trips starting at around £300 and including transfers, lift passes and accommodation, they offer an inexpensive way for students to spend a week in the mountains without blowing their student loans, but also, more importantly, they also open up the world of snowsports to new members. 

“For many students, this will be their first affordable opportunity to learn how to ski or snowboard”, says Sam. “Typically around 25 per cent of Varsity Trip participants are beginners and this year is no exception. Over 600 students taking to the snow for the first time!”

The Varsity Trip isn’t unusual in this respect. Having watched them endlessly sidestep up and down the nursery slopes, after a week in resort, most universities can expect to leave with scores of freshly hooked skiers and snowboarders. After her first uni ski trip, Emmy was one of them.

“I was never a skier before uni so for me ski trips and student snow sports as a whole has changed my life completely”, she says. “I was incredibly proud to represent Edinburgh University as part of a team at competition level and I've been honoured to be a rep for many amazing student groups. Snowsports are now one of my biggest passions and the people I've met through the trips are some of the most amazing people I expect I'll ever meet”.

Of course, if you put several thousand students anywhere, there will be drunken behaviour. Students are going to wear onesies, they’re going to ski in as few clothes as possible and, every now and again, they’re going to make a lot of noise. But most students are simply going on holiday to relax and unwind at the end of term, many will be going to challenge themselves and try something new and none of them will be going out with the aim to ruin someone else’s holiday. While antisocial or disruptive behaviour should always be condemned, when it comes to student snowsport trips, we should celebrate the opportunity they provide and accept that they’re about an awful lot more than "debauchery and excess".