Varsity Trip: Exclusive or accessible?

Image credit: P.H Louw

The annual Varsity Ski Trip is arguably one of the best ways to blow off steam after an intense Cambridge term. This year’s trip consisted of roughly four thousand Oxford and Cambridge students descending upon the mountain resort of Val Thorens in France. An intense week of partying and skiing, it was an excellent opportunity for students to consolidate friendships, as well as to get to know those in other year groups, colleges, and Oxford University better.

Yet, it is worth asking whether or not this tradition excludes those whose parents have not been taking them skiing since the age of four.

In some aspects, this does not seem to matter. The number of beginner skiers on the trip is large, and there does not seem to be any stigma attached to being a first-time skier as people are happy to muddle along and ski with whomever. Moreover, the trip is very affordable as far as skiing goes, with the base price starting at £339 for the 2016 trip, although this price is likely to increase when lessons, food, drink, equipment, and accommodation upgrades are accounted for.

The tension in cost is what can often split groups apart. For example, with regards to accommodation, some may be willing to pay as much as £199 extra for a top tier chalet with a sauna and more, versus those who are happy to settle for a cupboard-like room in a standard building. This may make certain aspects of the trip less accessible to some students. Plus, the very idea of a ski trip can prove intimidating to those from less well-off backgrounds where people may not be as familiar with the activity; people attach a certain stereotype to the activity of skiing, something which could perhaps be addressed by the trip organisers.

The popularity of the trip amongst Oxbridge students must be taken into account. The trip is often featured in national papers, attracting much more attention than ski trips at other universities, which are comparatively unpopular. This shows that it is evident that there is a massive response to the trip here, but that there needs to be a certain sensitivity when it comes to potentially alienating elements of it in order to ensure that students are not left out of what has become an Oxbridge tradition, dating back to the 1921/22 season. 

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