University snowsport societies stand accused of ruining the Alps for others through their drunken escapades.
The increasing popularity of cheap skiing trips has led to around 10,000 students on the loose in its resorts at any one time.
Of course, not all of them misbehave, but the antics of a sizeable number are increasingly becoming a problem, according to media reports.
“Not as many students care about the skiing anymore”
Thomas Hind, president of the University of Brighton’s Ski and Snowboard Club (Sussex Snow) said the popularity of economy-class ski vacations among students is booming.
“We have so many applicants across our two trips, that it’s becoming impossible to accommodate all members of the club [who want to go],” he told Elephant Sport.
Hind admits the common perception is that students use the Alps as “an area to get pissed”.
But he argues that university societies “bring in millions of pounds for the resorts, so I don’t see where the complaints come from”.
On the other hand, Portsmouth Ski and Snow Club vice-president, Megan Eynon admits that students are turning the Alps into a “drunken playground” where most people on university ski trips “go for cheap booze and to have some fun. Not as many people this year actually care about the skiing,” she added.
Sussex Snow has two main trips abroad, taking 200 students to Val Thorens in France before Christmas and 100 in Easter to Pasa de la Casa in Andorra.
Trips are incredibly cheap, with prices starting at £359, which includes return coach travel, a six-day lift pass, discount on rental, cheap drinks wristband (where beers can be two euros) and accommodation.
This Christmas just gone, Hind managed to secure four-star chalet-style accommodation with shared pools and hot tubs – a one-off, he admits, as they usually hire basic self-catered accommodation.
Eynon’s most recent trip to Les Deux Alpres cost just £10 more, with return transfers on luxury coaches, basic self-catering apartments that can sleep eight people, and entry to the Rise Festival included in the price.
Festivals in the snow are starting to attract more university ski trips because they are incredibly cheap and an added bonus for students seeking to have a good time.
Snowbombong is another very popular festival in Austria, which won best overseas festival in the UK in 2013, beating Tomorrowland and Outlook. Because Snowbombong is so popular that its creators have also organised the Transition festival in France.
Rise is arguably the biggest festival in the Alps but had its share of the criticism about students spoiling the enjoyment of other skiers with their drunken revels.
As cheap as these packages might be, students must be very careful with their budgets whilst studying, so both snow clubs work hard with travel companies to achieve the cheapest and best-quality trips possible.
Sussex Snow works closely with NUCO Travel for their packages, aiming to include as many events as possible to make the trips action-packed and also agreeing deals with local bars.
SnowPortsmouth provide a cheap price but without a cheap drinks wristband so students bring alcohol with them and also share cooking duties to avoid food being thrown away at the end of the week.
Many also take hipflasks to avoid buying drinks during the day’s skiing.
Unfortunately for everyone who is angry with student skiers for the impact they are having on the Alps, they are ultimately making money for the areas they visit.
Such are the numbers involved that university societies are now attracting sponsors. Sussex Snow have deals with Eat Sleep Drink Ski and Silverstick who give them free merchandise, Messerschmitt, who give them free bottles of their alcohol at resorts, and both societies are sponsored by Faction who give huge discounts on their ski equipment.
“Authorities both here and in the resorts have attempted to discourage the kind of drunken antics that can lead to tragedy”
But how many incidents – or accidents – would it take for some of these companies to reassess their relationships with student clubs?
Last November, a student from the Isle of Wight died of hypothermia following a bar crawl in the French resort of Val d’Isere.
In February, an 18-year-old seasonal worker was killed in Les Deux Alpes after he used a safety mattress to slide down a ski run at 1am, crashing into trees. Two others with him at the time suffered serious injuries.
Mountains are dangerous places at the best of times, and authorities both here and in the Alpine resorts have attempted to discourage the kind of drunken antics that can lead to tragedy.
Since 2010, a coordinated attempt has been made by local and UK authorities to crack down on the heavy drinking that accompanies the ski season, with the Foreign Office running an information campaign aimed at raising awareness among British tourists of the risks that come with high-altitude alcohol consumption.
Through the distribution of posters, flyers and beermats in resorts such as Val d’Isère, Meribel and Morzine, it has warned more than a million Britons that binge drinking on a ski holiday can be a recipe for disaster. It also aims to make sure people come to the Alps with adequate insurance cover – still a familiar problem among the under-25s.
Hind insists: “We do as much as we can to warn students of [excessive] alcohol consumption.”
Enyon added: “We always encourage everyone to go home with friends and wear appropriate clothing on nights out. We also remind everyone how the alcohol will effect them differently at a higher altitude, but many see this as a better opportunity to get even more drunk.”
Both agree that ski-trip students are drinking too much and at least partially admit this is having a negative impact on public attitudes towards them.
What’s certain is that students will continue to get flock to the Alps, attracted by cheap ski deals – and that this will only result in further deaths if the warnings are not heeded