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30 teenagers in Andorra – what could possibly go wrong?


My college had organized a Christmas ski trip for a group of year 13’s who would be chosen at random, out of a hat, and presented with a ticket to a week of ski-heaven. I was one of the lucky thirty.

Of course, as all school ski trips do, we started with a very lengthy coach trip from London to Andorra. This involved a coach to Newhaven where we took a three-hour ferry to France and from the North drove all the way through the interior of France up into the Pyrenees and finally reached our long-awaited destination.

The ferry journey and coach ride were smoothed by many plastic bottles full of flat coke and sneaked-in vodka. Unsurprisingly by the time we arrived in the snow-capped mountain village of Arinsal we all felt somewhat the worse for wear and toddled off meekly to eat and sleep.

The next day a yolk-yellow sun rose in cobalt skies. The Hotel Micolau served us a hearty breakfast of shiny, thick hot chocolate and grooved, crispy churros before we set off for the snowy slopes.

Most of us were beginners and so joined the free ski school, where, like Bambi on ice, we learned the basics of skiing and how to glide around bollards and not into each other. Flat ground beaten; in the afternoon we were going to hit the actual slopes. The afternoon flew by in a chaotic but successful way. Everyone’s confidence was growing and a few of us were looking to the mountains for higher runs.

The next night, courtesy of the ski school, we had an evening out laid on for us. This included tubing, much eating, belly-boarding and out-and-out frolics in the Andorran winter wonderland. Afterwards, without our teachers’ consent we snuck off into the vibrant Arinsal night to soak up the Catalan party scene.

On the slopes the next day many of us were feeling worse for wear again but ready for a challenge. However the day didn’t pan out quite as planned. Mine started off painfully with an early-morning incident with a chairlift. With overweening confidence I felt I had somewhat mastered the chairlifts but I hadn’t. When getting off I stood up for too long and didn’t move quickly enough and consequently was knocked unconscious (for a second) by the next chairlift and dragged by a kind operator to the snowy sides. I recovered in the medical centre and by the afternoon was demanding to get back on the piste.

However I was about to witness an accident far more perilous than my own. Back with my ski group and with a very good friend of mine, Chloe, we set off to tackle steeper runs. Arriving at the top of a rugged snow-dusted mountain we realized the easiest route down had been blocked off, so our only option was to ski the red. This red was terrifying. Starting with a wide, rock-peppered surface and gradually reducing in width but increasingly steep, the run was a difficult red. It tracked through many tunnels, often very icy and sometimes barely the width of a single skier. Care would probably have been the best tactic but enjoying the adrenaline buzz we careered down the mountain like bats out of hell. I felt pretty out of control but Chloe’s legs were wobbling like unset jelly.

All was well until we entered a particularly icy tube-like tunnel, gaining pace fast. On the ice-topped snow I began to feel the ground slipping from my grip. Chloe was in front of me and all of a sudden, without warning, completely lost control. Her skis crossed, her legs buckled and she screamed like the hellions of the underworld. Exiting the tunnel she did a backbreaking fall to the ice but didn’t stop moving: she careered head-first for the steep drop next to the rather beautiful pine trees.

Watching this I had also taken a tumble and behind me a pile up began; like lemmings, skiers toppled as they left the tunnel. I skidded away from the drop but Chloe flew straight down and I was left with an eerie silence and angry skiers. I wasn’t hurt just aching: then Chloe started to scream. Our ski instructor called for help immediately. At the bottom of the cliff, she couldn’t get up, walk, or move much at all. The run was closed and paramedics arrived, with a stretcher-sledge to take her away. With a look of shame and humiliation she was packed onto the stretcher and, sirens echoing across the mountain landscape, was skied down, very slowly, to hospital.

It turned out she had a broken leg and had sprained her neck. For the next four and half days she was left in the hotel bar with a teacher while we gallivanted around the slopes some more. It is seriously lucky that my school took our group insurance, or there would have been far more problems!

She describes it as the most embarrassing moment in her young life but I find it painfully funny every time I remember her sprawled, legs akimbo, hurtling towards the steep drop and screaming murderously. It is at times like these that you think anything could happen and there really are no guarantees when you’re abroad!

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