The chilly world of skiing indoors
13th October 2009 | Ben Clatworthy, Racing and Sports Correspondent
More and more people seem to be heading indoors to ski and snowboard in the UK. Why and what’s it like?
Long gone are the days when the only option to get in some pre-holiday practice was the local dry slope on a bit of rather odd white plastic.
Across the UK there is a growing number of ‘snow-domes’. They are, in all essence, giant fridges filled with real snow.
There are now five of these slopes in England and one in Scotland.
I’ve come to ‘The Snow Centre’ in Hemel Hempstead, which is the newest one in England. The ex-British ski racer, Alain Baxter, opened the centre in May this year and what followed has been pretty successfull.
PlanetSKI was there for the cutting of the ribbon, or rather the skiing through it, by Baxter.
It’s a Thursday afternoon at the end of the summer holidays, +22c outside, but in here it’s -2c.
The air smells fresh and the slope is filled with skiers criss-crossing one another as they fly down the slopes.
It was an exciting sight and I felt as if I was in a real ski resort. Well, almost.
I popped into my skis and headed for the poma lift. There may be no chairlift or gondola but the whole lift operation was very impressive.
A couple of minutes later I arrived at the top of the slope, skidded round and looked down towards the bottom – admittedly it wasn’t a black run, but still considering I was skiing, for real, in England I could hardly complain.
There was even a piste basher at the bottom of the slope.
“There’s been a huge increase in recreational use of indoor slopes across the UK. Since The Snow Centre launched in May this year, bookings have been fantastic,” says Pete Gillespie who is the director of Snowsports at the Snow Centre. “This increase in participation is largely due to the superb facilities, snow conditions and teaching now on offer in the UK.”
It’s easy to forget but these slopes are also a brilliant resource to train for racing or to become an instructor.The Snow Centre is already home to the UK branch of the Kandahar Ski Club Junior Training, the ski team that I race for, and they train 8 – 18 year olds most weeks on the real snow giving them the absolute best possible UK based training on a regular basis.
The Snow Centre is also the only BASI Centre of Excellence in the South of the country, it’s a good location and a much cheaper place to train as a ski instructor than out in The Alps.
I had a wonderful afternoon on the snow with some friends and the excitement of skiing on real snow in England didn’t really wear off, but I’ll be totally honest; it wasn’t quite The Alps.
Despite the images of the mountains on the wall, having only one piste did get slightly monotonous, but I really can’t complain – it’s an impressive facility with a massive potential, be it for someone learning to ski or an Olympic hopefull.
The Snow Centre offers it all.
Don’t foreget to check out the video and story of a fund raising event for Britain’s No 1 male ski racer, Ed Drake, at The Snow Centre last week.
Recreational skiing starts from £22 for one hour at weekends and ski and snowboarding taster classes start from £24.
For more information on prices, instruction, school holiday activities and special offers visit www.thesnowcentre.com