When I learned to ski, back in the mists of time when dinosaurs roamed the primeval swamps, it was thanks to the Scottish education system. To the now-defunct Lothian Region, to be specific, which seemed to have an enormous budget for interesting activities, dedicated outdoor ed teachers and a fleet of white minibuses with orange roofs. Of course this sort of thing is frowned upon in the modern age, now that getting cold and wet up various hills is deemed to have much less educational value than sitting through classes in emotional intelligence, so the whole lot has been polished up with words like ‘aspiration’ and thrown open to the corporate team-building market. But of course there’s always Shaun White Snowboarding for Playstation. So that’s all right then.
We hadn’t invented health and safety back in the ’70s and ’80s either, which probably helped, since we were allowed to leave school premises without a helmet, kevlar body armour, a fluorescent vest and an emergency medical team. We were banned from making slides in the playground one winter, but since we were making them on a slope which ended in a particularly spiny harled wall, that was probably fair comment. I suppose it isn’t a good thing for a primary school to have bloodstains all down the front wall.
But despite jobsworth bureaucrats, litigious parents and endless risk assessments (or possibly because of those – I’ve met teachers who have wangled a month’s free skiing on the pretext of doing superfluous risk assessments) schools do still manage to smuggle children out into the great outdoors and get them to do things which don’t involve looking at a screen or eating crisps. This is clearly a bit of a culture shock to some of them, but it’s probably what we used to call character-building. A bit like the ‘swim test’ they used to do to you if you signed up for a watersports week at Benmore, which involved being taken out in the dark on the first evening and made to jump into a freezing loch in just your swimming cozzie. Anyone who didn’t die instantly of galloping hypothermia was allowed to do it all over again in a kayak the following morning.
You don’t often see a school group during term time though, despite the fact that everything costs the earth during school holidays, because learning to ski is completely frivolous and no more than a free jolly for the teachers, who just love to spend their holiday time being responsible 24/7 for 90 hormonal adolescents whose mission it is to get their hands on industrial quantities of vodka.
I can see that knowing how to ski is likely to be of bugger all use to most youngsters when it comes to the world of paid work, what with it not being high on most employers’ list of Essential Skills We Want From Our Corporate Work Units. Because that’s the one and only function of education, isn’t it? Turning out useful cannon fodder for capitalism. It’s not like it could have any intrinsic value or anything.
In fact, if I had to make my own list of Essential Skills I Got From School, it would consist of general literacy, the rudiments of French, how to ski and possibly the ability to recognise an erratic boulder when I see one. Though advice on how to dodge them might have been useful – Geography syllabus compilers please note.
But it’s good to see that those schoolchildren who do make it past Elfinsafety Nazis, disapproving governors and po-faced local authority killjoys still manage to have fun, usually to the dismay of their minders, whose task it is to prevent them from having the sort of good time they’d prefer. Put yourself in their shoes – you’re away from home with all your mates, in a glam resort (yes I know it’s 2Alpes – it’s still glam when you’re 14) with a party reputation, and your teachers’ idea of fun après ski is some ice skating followed by a town trail and early bed at 10pm. Naturally you are going to try to sneak out to the Secret Bar next door until the small hours and incidentally win the wet T-shirt competition. I’d love to know how the young lady involved in that one explained the brand new snowboard to her mother when she got home.
Likewise, you are evidently going to do your best to investigate the possibilities offered by members of the opposite sex who are a) wearing nightclothes and b) not your siblings. This involves a good deal of giggling, running up and down corridors when the SS has its back turned and hiding in or under pieces of furniture while everyone else tries to look innocent. On at least one occasion this resulted in a broken arm when someone decided to hide on the balcony – normally quite a good wheeze, though it’s always wise to check that the room in question does actually have a balcony before you try it.
Along with curfew-breaking and adolescent mating rituals, getting your grubby mitts on booze is always a top priority with teenagers on school trips. My own experience of this involved Asti Spumante, which has about as much effect on human biochemistry as Top Deck shandy, so was a bit disappointing. Savvy modern youngsters have moved on from this into spirits, or more often vile sticky liqueurs which they assume will taste nice because they have a picture of a piece of fruit on the label. I finished one summer season with half a dozen bottles of some foul apple concoction confiscated from various spotty 14-year-olds who thought hiding their booze in the toilet cisterns and on the bathroom windowsills was a cunningly novel idea which would have us all fooled. Unlucky. Still, at least they showed more initiative (and had more comedy value) than the group whose strategy consisted entirely of repeatedly asking the bar staff for JD and Coke when they were all 13 and restricted to E-number cocktails with a side order of Haribo.
How anyone can question the educational value of all this is frankly baffling. Not only do they learn to ski, these teens are getting their heads round the rudiments of some very valuable life skills. Finding the best places to hide in a bedroom when someone catches you in flagrante for a start. (Not that I’ve ever used that one myself.) Then there’s turning up drunk/legless/crashingly hungover and managing to hide the fact from the people in charge – how many of us can honestly say that one hasn’t stood us in good stead at some point in our working lives? Yes, the school ski trip offers your children an invaluable opportunity to learn essential skills in a safe and controlled environment. Provided they remember that thing about the balcony.