Following a week of blizzards in mid-January, the International School of Lausanne Year 7 – 11 students set off for the annual Ski Trips week. Blessed with bluebird conditions – sunshine, blue skies, and pristine white pistes – beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders learned new skills and honed technique, frequently forging new friendships in doing so. For our Year 11s, the Ski Trip also gave the students the opportunity to discover new mountain sports, such as cross-country skiing and ski touring, and to acquire important avalanche safety skills. Keep reading to learn more about the week, or scroll to the end of the article to see what the students themselves had to say about the experience…

On a Monday afternoon in mid-January, ISL students arrived in their period 7 lessons just as snow began to fall from the lowering grey sky. A fury of gloriously fat, feathery flakes fell in droves, disrupting the usual start-of-lesson routines as the students flocked in glee to the windows to watch, and covering the ISL campus in a rapidly deepening white blanket.

And, as the week went by, the snow kept falling. The Swiss Alps, hitherto unseasonably bare due to the freakishly mild weather over New Year, regained their winter wrap of white. As temperatures plummeted, frozen snow clung to the branches of trees, glittering in the blue-skied breaks between blizzards.

The timing was perfect for ISL’s annual Ski Trips.

Each January, the International School of Lausanne Year 7 – 10 students journey to one of our neighbouring ski resorts for a week of skiing; the Year 11s, who spend the Monday and Tuesday off-timetable concluding their International Baccalaureate Personal Project, have a three-day ski trip that encompasses a range of more advanced mountain activities and training.

And so, in the renowned resorts of La Tzoumaz (part of Verbier’s famous 4 Vallées), Crans Montana, Anzère and Gstaad, the students enjoyed the most spectacular classroom possible – skiing and snowboarding pristine pistes, surrounded by gleaming white mountain peaks, beneath beautiful blue skies.

The overarching learning aims of the ski trips are the same for all five year groups. Switzerland is synonymous with winter sports culture; the symmetrical silhouette of the mighty Matterhorn as seen from the winding streets of Zermatt is perhaps the most recognisable peak on the planet; and ISL is fortunate to have some of the world’s best ski resorts within just a couple of hours by bus or by train.

The ski trips, therefore, give our students, some of whom have never set foot on snow before arriving in Switzerland, the opportunity to discover or develop their appreciation of this fundamental part of Swiss culture – all while creating new or strengthening existing social bonds within the year group.

In addition to learning or honing their skills on skis or snowboard, in the Ski Trips over the years, the students snowshoe, ice-skate, ski-tour, toboggan, build igloos, dig avalanche pits, and – of course – eat plenty of fondue and chocolate…

For the Year 8s in Crans Montana, this year’s snowshoe took place at the end of the afternoon, with the students stomping their way up a closed piste as the sun sank into the snowclad pine trees behind them. As twilight purpled the sky, a pale crescent moon rose. By the time the group reached their destination – a woodland clearing with several stone grills – the sky was lit up with stars. For most of the students, however, this wasn’t quite such an alluring sight as the snowshoe instructors lighting up the grills, and handing out skewers and marshmallows for roasting!

Stomping back down the piste after a feast of roasted marshmallows, three of the less confident students fell behind the main group. Descending steeper slopes is tricky on snowshoes, and occasionally, someone fell over. The other two would immediately stop and help them up, checking if they were okay. Each time, the one who had fallen over would reassure them that they were “all good”, thank them for the help, and keep on stomping down the piste. As the instructors’ torchlight behind them sent their shadows looming on the snow, the students raised their arms and made their shadows dance.

Encouraging each other the whole time, they stomped and danced their way back to the chalet.

While for some International School of Lausanne new students, the trips mark their first time sliding on snow, for many in the group, the trips are an opportunity to hone existing skills. Learning in ability-based groups, the students are coached in technique and taught new tricks.

From riding switch or on just one ski, to hucking in the snow park or racing downhill slalom, the intermediate and advanced riders take their skills to new levels over the course of week, pushing each other on with a mix of praise, support, and some healthy competition!

For the beginner skiers and snowboarders, the small and encouraging group environments are ideal for nurturing confidence, and the students are able to see a strong progression over the course of the week.

Starting on the Monday with snowploughs (skiers) and getting the hand of heel and toe edge (snowboarders) on gentle blue pistes, by the Friday, beginner groups are descending steeper and significantly longer red runs, working on their turns, and cheering each other on.

Anyone who has ever learned to snowboard will know how achingly exhausting the frequent falls and push ups back into position become, but the beginner snowboarders of ISL showed their resilience and just kept on trying.

For the Year 11 students, the ski trips have a broader scope, with the goal of introducing the students to the opportunity to discover the terrain beyond the pistes, and to begin acquiring the avalanche training and survival skills necessary so that they can do so safely.

On their ski day, the more advanced skiers and snowboarders were taken off-piste, learning how to adjust their riding style from carving down smooth groomed slopes to surfing through deeper powder or negotiating the challenges of ever-changing choppy, tracked-out snow.

On the other two days of the trip, the Year 11s were given the chance to discover the increasingly popular winter sport of ski touring, venturing off the groomed pistes and into the backcountry. Their strength and stamina was tested as they skinned uphill, before enjoying well-earned turns in the soft snow on the descent.

As many of the Year 11s express themselves in their reflections below, it is essential to have an avalanche kit (the absolute basic is snow shovel, snow probe and avalanche transceiver) if you are considering off-piste ski touring, and to be well-trained in how to use these items should the need arise. The students were shown how to use the search mode on a transceiver to find the location of the buried person (or, in this case, buried backpack), used the probe to confirm the location, and then dug it out with the shovel.

Discovering the culture of Switzerland’s stunning mountain resorts, and, for those who seek adventure beyond the controlled terrain of the pistes, exploring wild Alpine terrain, is unquestionably one of the greatest parts of Swiss life. ISL’s annual Ski Trips allow our students to acquire the skills to make the most of the inspirational mountain environment safely, with confidence, and with their best friends sliding down the slopes beside them.

So what do the students of the International School of Lausanne say about their Ski Week experience? Discover the trips through the words of the Year 11s and the Year 7s.

Year 11

I was surrounded by all of my closest friends, creating memories that will last a lifetime. The exciting activities, such as the avalanche training, added to the experience and made it truly unforgettable. I believe that everyone should experience this at least once in their lives. (Elena, Year 11)

In my opinion the year 11 mountain trip was one of the most valuable trips I have had in years; it was a very engaging and educational trip, as we got to experience new activities such as igloo building, cross country skiing, ski touring… This gave me lots of new memories that are valuable for me. I would repeat this trip anytime and I recommend it to the following year 11s. (Lucas, Year 11)

I feel that ski week gave me valuable time with my peers – both to get to know and make new friends, and to bond with existing friends and create lasting memories. Although the trip was focused around mountain and snow activities, they were a medium in which I was able to strengthen my relationship with my friends. I also feel that they were very educational and allowed me to learn about a variety of new skills – from avalanche training, to ski touring, to learning to ride switch on my snowboard, I was immersed into a vast world of activities that I otherwise most likely wouldn’t have gotten to experience. (Maako, Year 11)

The avalanche training was very useful to us as we live in a country with a lot of mountains and snow during the winter. Skiing is a very common sport in Switzerland and many of us like to go off-piste on the mountains which can be rather dangerous if you don’t have the right equipment or the knowledge of what to do in a dangerous situation. All of these experiences were valuable to us, and they also allowed further interactions in the year group, building deeper connections. (Maya, Year 11)

The avalanche rescue training was a particularly interesting part of our trip – as we near adulthood, we gain a responsibility to learn about how to stay safe and alert in case of an avalanche, and the exercises we did were insightful, although tiring. Combining this educational aspect of the trip with off-piste skiing made it a very valuable experience overall. (Suvarn, Year 11)

I feel the Y11 ski trip was useful in its content; gaining knowledge about avalanches and rescue procedures in the event of one is crucially important for our community to learn as one that frequently spends time in avalanche-prone environments. It is our responsibility to maintain our safety in our environments. (Toby, Year 11)

Year 7

Ski week is the best school trip out of all of the others. My snowboard instructor was the nicest instructor I have ever had in all sports. I loved the torch-lit walk and the fire was mesmerizing. (Finlay, Year 7)

I think the ski trip was really unforgettable; it felt like a film at some points, when my friends and I were playing in the fluffy, cold snow. I learnt how to ski better and the instructors were really pleasant and patient. I did fall a few times but they were all really funny and never hurt too much. The disco was definitely super fun, the music was awesome and it was a very nice environment to be in. (Rebeca, Year 7)

It was a useful experience because I learned to be kind and have fun without my mother. But my roommates said one night that they couldn’t sleep with the light on and I can’t sleep with the light off so we used a flashlight. Problem solved! (Ela, Year 7)

The ski trip was unforgettable. My room was amazing, my group was fantastic too. The glimmering compact snow was excellent for carving. The vast pistes were like an empty desert with no one on the slope. An unforgettable moment was the edgy old gondola I took with Viktor, Marco, and Joe. We had a lot of fun in the gondolas, in fact for me, it was the roller coaster of the mountains! This trip was definitely an unforgettable experience, and I will have this memory for as long as I can remember. (Mattia, Year 7)

It was a lovely and freeing experience. It allowed me to feel more independent and self-confident. The hotel we stayed at was very cosy. The weather during skiing was absolutely amazing – sunny and there was a soft blanket of clouds down in the valley that we could see when we were high up the mountain. The pistes were long and wide and the snow was soft; the off-piste snow was all shimmery and sparkly. And when you’re with your friends it’s always fun! (Emilia, Year 7)

The word that I would choose to represent the Year 7 ski trip is friendship. This is because it was an amazing trip because we were doing things like dancing, skiing and ice-skating with our friends. Friends make things so much more fun because if have fun, you can share it with your friends which makes it even better. I think that the mountains are wonderful and especially when the clouds come down to the valley, and under the mountains looks like a sea of marshmallows. I also loved the disco night with friends and loved being a part of the heart of the party. (Leonardo, Year 7)

On the ski trip I had an unforgettable moment. The white snow was glowing, the light blue sky with the sun shining bright through it, and there we were about to go down Mont Fort. This was the time we were waiting for. And we went down the shiny piste, laughing and smiling all the way down. (Mafalda, Year 7)

Besides having a blast with my year group and teachers, skiing was a moment I could never forget. Skiing with my friends and teachers was an irreplaceable moment that I would never find again while skiing. This was a valuable trip because of all the friendships I made, and now still have, and because of the teaching experience I got from the ski instructors. (Sofia, Year 7)

For me, the ski trip was a very valuable experience. On the first day we went up to the mountains. The sun was resting on the white mountains, and the snow was shining like glitter. We got our skis on and slid down the mountain. We stopped at a restaurant for some warm hot chocolate. As we sat drinking it, I could see the little snowflakes through the window twirling and swirling like ballerinas dancing. (Scarlett, Year 7)

I think that the ski trip was very fun, and I enjoyed the tasks we needed to do. I think that this trip was valuable, because I learned a lot of new ski tricks and I was able to go down two black slopes. I also learned some other things such as how to play pool, ice skate and how to play “wolf”. Overall, I thought It was excellent! (Felipe, Year 7)

The ski trip was very educational because overall I have become a better skier. I enjoy going to more difficult resorts now because I have more confidence. During the ski trip I was able to make more progress in my skiing ability because I was pushed to do more off-piste skiing. The ski resort was extremely large and let me leave my comfort zone many times. (Austin, Year 7)

If I had to describe ski week in one word, it would be unforgettable. I always felt captivated by the idea of school camps; the experience of living with all my classmates for a week always seemed intriguing. I had the chance to do this in Year 6 and also at the beginning of Year 7. Both of these camps were still in the beginning and end of summer, so the temperature was very different to what I experienced now.  Being surrounded by the delicate snow was definitely an experience that I won’t forget. (Dominga, Year 7)