The school ski trip always sounded like a great idea when I signed up to it. What could possibly be better than going on holiday with all your mates and more importantly, no-one’s parents?
Not only that, mainland Europe was (and probably still is) a fabled place in the teenage imagination. A place where laser pens were legal, fags were cheap and (rumour had it) the drinking age was only 16.
Of course when I got there I’d frequently find that reality didn’t always match up to my expectations. But I did pick up these few essential survival tips along the way…
1) The Coach Journey Is the Longest of Your (and the Poor Bus Driver’s) Life
If the seventh circle of hell exists, it’s probably just one endless coach journey with all the terrible people you went to school with.
52 bored teenagers on a 20-hour coach trip to Kitzbuhel, with only Jurassic Park Three and Love Actually for entertainment, what could possibly go wrong? You might be surprised to hear this but, err… everything.
“If the seventh circle of hell exists, it’s probably just one endless coach journey”
Whichever way you look on this nightmarish journey, someone will be doing something to deliberately annoy someone else next to them.
And if you do happen to fall asleep on this biblically long road trip (which isn’t something I’d recommend) don’t be surprised to wake up and find a badly-drawn penis on your forehead. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
2) The Snowball Fights Are Not Like You’d Expect
At some point or other, there’s going to be a snowball fight. And when I say “snowball fight”, what I actually mean is “The Hunger Games (On Ice)”.
Sure, it might all start out as a bit of harmless fun but things will change. Once they do, the world as you know it will never be the same again. Like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, minus the reassuring face of Tom Hanks, the bloodbath will haunt you for the rest of your life.
“You’ll hear the screams of your fallen comrades, as the older kids seize control of the higher ground”
Breezeblocks of ice, covered by only the most delicate dusting of snowflakes, will whistle past your adolescent face.
You’ll cling to the mountainside and visualise your own grizzly demise: A broken nose, a twisted ankle, a spear of ice plunged right through the middle of your beating heart.
You’ll hear the screams of your fallen comrades, as the older kids seize control of the higher ground. Honestly, the Somme has nothing on school ski trip snowball fights.
3) Beware the Vomiting Bug That’s Always Going Round
Waking up in the middle of the night, turning to one side, and vomiting into the middle of a darkened room is always bad.
Doing this when you’re on the top deck of a bunk bed is even worse. Doing this, and then realizing you’ve been sick directly into your friend’s only pair of trainers is the icing on the sick-flavoured cake.
It was 2:30am in Méribel, and I had just spewed my insides all across the room (and into my friend’s only pair of trainers).
It’s no exaggeration when I say that I redecorated one whole side of our sleeping quarters with undigested chunks of Kinder Bueno and marshmallow flumps.
“Nothing screams modern art quite like a pair of sick-filled Reeboks”
Amazingly, my three roommates slept through this ‘vomcano’ and only realised something had happened when Mr. McManus, who I had nervously gone to fetch, turned the lights on and started helping me with the clean up operation.
If you’re reading this, Mr. McManus, I owe you a beer.
Over the course of one week in early 2004, this mysterious vomiting bug struck down every member of our school’s travelling party. And honestly it wasn’t self-inflicted – despite boasting that we’d try it, no-one had actually dared to try buying beer.
At the end of our stay in Méribel, the teaching staff awarded me with a paint set for my artistic endeavours (because nothing screams modern art quite like a pair of sick-filled Reeboks).
4) The Locals Will Hate You
When faced with a group of teenagers from another country, you can guarantee that some loud-mouthed idiot from your school will take it upon themselves to chant something culturally insensitive.
If the teenagers happen to be from Germany, for example, the chant will probably go something like this:
“TWO WORLD WARS AND ONE WORLD CUP! DOO-DAAH! DOO-DAAH!”
As you stand there and watch this happen, you’ll wish you had the courage to stop all the chanting.
Instead, you’ll just stare across at the Germans with an apologetic look in your eyes and pray that they don’t hate you.
5) You May Get Lost and Cry at Your Own Inadequacy
Getting separated from your ski-group and crying into your goggles might sound like a lot of fun, but it really isn’t.
When you’re a lost 12-year-old boy who hasn’t seen another human being in what feels like forever, tears are inevitable.
“Contrary to what The Cure might have you believe, boys do cry”
Inside your own head, in the heat of those panic-riddled moments, you’ll feel like you haven’t seen anyone for days. In reality, you’ve probably only been on your own for about ten minutes.
The crying is compounded if you completely suck at what you’re doing. In my case, this was snowboarding.
I was cold, I was falling over every two seconds, and I was genuinely concerned that I might be lost forever. Contrary to what The Cure might have you believe, boys do cry.
6) The Discos Will Be Terrible
At some point on a school ski trip, there’s always a cringe-inducing disco. The room is horrible, the music is horrible, and the social anxiety is palpable.
Of course, because this is a school disco and only non-alcoholic drinks are available, the social anxiety doesn’t dissipate as the night wears on. It just floats around the room all evening like an awkward smell.
“We mumbled incoherent apologies while looking at our feet”
My standout memory of one particularly crap ski-trip disco, and the point at which my friends and I decided to leave said disco, was when our fellow pupils started shuffling around the dance floor to Eamon’s “F*** You, You H**”.
Nobody should have to listen to this man’s music against his or her will. Nobody. I like to think that was our eloquent defense when the teachers questioned us for leaving the disco early.
In reality, we probably mumbled incoherent apologies while looking at our feet.
7) Some Bellend Will Try and Copy Dumb & Dumber
If there’s one thing you can guarantee on a school ski-trip, it’s that some idiot will try to recreate that scene in Dumb & Dumber where Jeff Daniels gets his tongue stuck to a ski lift.
Like pushing a big red button that says “DO NOT PUSH”, I guess the temptation to lick frosty metal in sub-zero temperatures is simply too much for some people to cope with.
This scenario is always more enjoyable when it happens to that older kid, with the shaved head, who you’ve always kind of hated. Schadenfreude!
8) Teachers Lose Their Sense of Authority When They Fall Over
After witnessing your teacher face plant spectacularly on a blue run, you and your classmates will never look at them in quite the same way ever again.
This may or may not be a good thing.
9) Don’t Bother With Milka, It’s Not Worth It
They’re like Dairy Milk but… not as good.
10) Buying Explosives May Seem Like a Good Idea, But It’s Not
While on the Méribel trip of 2004, I decided to purchase some mini sticks of dynamite. In hindsight, I really don’t know why I did this.
I hated loud noises and, as far as I can recall, I wasn’t planning on demolishing a bridge/opening my own quarry anytime soon.
I guess I wanted the pats on the back from my friends at home, the looks that said “Yeah. Jack’s a cool guy. He smuggles in weapons from mainland Europe.”
The smuggling itself was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. As our coach slowly approached The English Channel, I was sure the police were going to search my bags, find the contraband and throw me straight into a smelly French prison circa 1789.
“I was acting like a terrorist and, quite frankly, I was terrified”
I was acting like a terrorist and, quite frankly, I was terrified. Seriously, the nervous sweat pouring from my forehead would have been enough to drown a small hamster.
To my great relief, I managed to make it through border control without anyone giving me a second-look.
Upon returning home, I quickly proceeded to hide the mini sticks of dynamite beneath my bed. Too frightened to use them, they sat collecting dust for three months before my mum stumbled across them and gave me a huge telling-off.
After reading this, you might have got the impression that I hated my school ski-trips.
The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. For the most part (when I wasn’t vomiting, being pelted with snowballs or crying at the prospect of my probable impending death) they were joy-filled occasions that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Not only that, they were the ultimate baptism of fire into a sport – skiing – that I still love. What’s not to like about that?