LONDON: Friends of a student found dead following the first night of a university skiing trip to the French Alps today said: “We thought he was invincible”. Oxford University student Matt Smith, 22, was found unconscious in his chalet room in the upmarket resort of Val Thorens on the the annual Oxbridge Varsity ski trip. His friends called the emergency services when they were unable to revive him yesterday morning. Police and fire fighters attended but were unable to save Mr Smith, who is said to have suffered a cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr Smith, who was in his third year reading history at St John’s College and had recently completed a three-month internship as a junior press officer at Sotheby’s living in London, was described by friends as a “smashing lad” who was full of “fun and adventure”. Eóin Barrett-Fulton wrote on Facebook: “Still don’t believe it, he was taken far too soon. We all thought he was invincible. I’ll always love you Matt and I hope you’re resting better now. You’ll forever be one of my oldest and greatest friends.”
Mr Smith was a former pupil of Bedford Modern School in Bedfordshire and is believed to be the son of a a leading city analyst. Childhood friend Tom Hoskin wrote: “From spending every day of summer crashing at yours or going on every ski trip together since we were 10. “You were my very first best friend and I will always cherish every memory from our childhood. Rest in peace brother.” Tom’s mother Sharry Hoskin added: “So sad, he was an absolutely smashing lad. So full of fun and adventure. I’m totally shocked and saddened upon hearing this tragic news.” Glenn Tamkin added: “What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose – I love you so much man.” Mr Smith was a qualified snowboard instructor and attended the ski trip last year, where he was St John’s College’s rep for the Oxford University Ski and Snowboard Club. According to local police the students arrived by coach on Saturday and had gone straight out drinking. More than 3,000 students from Oxford and Cambridge are in the ski resort this week for the annual Varsity trip, which costs £339.
The students arrived on Saturday having made the 770-mile journey from Britain by coach. According to the local police, many started drinking in the late afternoon on Saturday, soon after they arrived in the resort, which is Europe’s highest at 2,300m. The Varsity ski trip has been heavily criticised in recent years for antics both on the slopes and in the resort. Last year a security official at the resort said that students were “risking their lives” by taking part in drunken challenges, such as the so-called Valley Rally, in which societies competed against each other in a series of risqué challenges to be crowned the “kings of the mountain”. A post-mortem is set to take place later this week while police continue to investigate at the scene. A spokesman for St John’s College told The Times: “We would like to express our deep sadness at the tragic death and send our condolences to his family and friends. “While we await the findings of the official investigation we are offering support to students who may have been affected.” A spokesman for NUCO Travel, the tour operator organising the Varsity trip, said last night: “Sadly one of our passengers passed away on Sunday 4th December 2016. At this time, to respect their family’s and friends’ privacy, we will not be commenting further.” A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are supporting the family of a British national who died in France on 4 December. We are in contact with the local authorities.”