Sharks, Scotsmen and skis: oh my!Esther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

This December, we once again witness the annual migration of Oxbridge to the French Alps, near the outer limits of where life can exist. Here on the slopes of Tignes, they gather in unprecedented numbers for just seven days a year, having flown hundreds of miles to congregate at high altitude. It is one of the rare spectacles of nature, the assembly of two natural enemies, and an insight into what can happen when two worlds collide.

At first, we observe what one might call, using the scientific terminology, the ‘primary school disco phenomenon’: each group initially remains firmly on their own territory, both waiting on the other to make the dreaded first move. I suspect that time and ethanol will do the trick before long; the crew settles down for what could be a long week.

“The whole ritual of strapping two planks to their feet and going round the mountains on a conveyor belt like oddly shaped sushi very much defies the laws of evolution”

Sure enough, as the two species struggle to adapt to their new surroundings, with only their Helly Hansen salopettes to shield them from the bitter cold, the team observes strange new trends in the behaviour of the Oxbridge: as the Oxford student meets the Cambridge student, a new mating season begins. Between 3–7pm each day, the otherwise distinct packs congregate to huddle for warmth, and blast DnB ‘music’ to deter external predators. Winter truly can be brutal.

However, the real danger abounds in their midst, as our students soon learn. These mountains conceal many life-threatening dangers, but nobody could have anticipated the abundance of sharks – another tragic result of global warming, I presume. One particularly starved-looking apex predator, a notoriously shrewd hunter, is circling. It might have been months since their last meal, so they’re not going to squander this chance. Spotting the Oxford freshers’ watering-hole – stationed diligently next to the free mulled wine – this shark wastes no time. These silly freshers should be no match for a seasoned veteran of Après-ski; but there is strength in numbers, and this pack is led by an experienced female who closes off their exposed flank expertly before leading them, bopping, further into the mosh pit. These freshers have had one lucky escape.

These foolish youngsters have not accounted for the effects of altitude on their bloodstreams, so the alcohol rapidly takes its toll. Within minutes, even the largest of the so-called ‘rugby lads’ are swaying to All Too Well (Taylor’s Version). It was suggested that this unfortunate abuse of resources may have correlated with a rather conspicuous increase in hibernation trends the next morning, as slopes remained suspiciously quiet until lunchtime due to a mysterious sickness going around. Let’s take a closer look.

“One particularly green-looking skier was overheard telling their companion, “I just threw up in my mouth”

Indeed, it seems a large proportion of last night’s revellers have acquired a mate, presumably for huddling purposes. One particularly green-looking skier was overheard telling their companion “I just threw up in my mouth,” before proceeding down the slope with some difficulty. Other worse-for-wear skiers emerge from their slumber just in time to return to Après, a simple journey that, today, will require some complex calculations.

It is certainly an odd choice for the Oxbridge to deliberately put themselves through the annual torment of adapting to the challenges of a hostile environment. A less experienced skier abandoned by the group would certainly perish. In fact, the whole ritual of strapping two planks to their feet and going round the mountains on a conveyor belt like oddly shaped sushi very much defies the laws of evolution.


Mountain View

Cambridge creature case studies: Rob from upstairs

On the nursery slopes, some of our Oxbridge are still finding their ski legs; natural selection ensues. A mob of learner snowboarders (translation: self-inflicted monopods), truly a lethal troop, have been relearning how to stand at the top of the slope for hours; meanwhile, a terrified control-freak inches her way down at an excruciating pace, just asking to be taken out by wolves – or a stray monopod. Various teaching techniques are displayed along the slope as the instructors escort their younglings to the edge of the precipice, from which there is only one way down. One rather unorthodox technique is being employed by a horrifically hungover Scotsman (whom you may remember from a previous episode): as he and his student reach the brink of the gradient, he screams “GO!” before pursuing the petrified pupil at rapid speed, issuing blood-curdling screams as they descend to make her go faster. While this method may pose welfare concerns, it nonetheless appears to work: albeit in tears, his skier slides to safety.

Communication in such a setting is vital. A new mode of transmitting information has been developed since last year’s migration, leading to some unprecedented bizarre behaviour patterns. Every day, at an unspecified time, the entire population of every slope in the resort grinds to a halt as the Oxbridge extract their mobiles and pose in the name of ‘being real’. Whatever will they come up with next? Tune in next year to find out.