Here’s a quick story about how indoor skiing can boost you and your children’s confidence… and give them a lifetime of passion for the mountains.
Before I moved to the UK at the age of 13, I skied regularly – almost every weekend, 2 hours’ drive from home.
So when I arrived in Brighton, I just couldn’t wait for the Christmas and Easter holidays in order to get out on the slopes in the Alps.
I wasn’t particularly good at cricket or rugby, and football was frowned upon! I loved tennis, but living in Brighton, it always seemed to be too windy or wet to play properly, or to enjoy it.
Then, to my great joy, I discovered there was an indoor ski slope in Newhaven called, for some reason, Borowski. Who would have thought it (I think it was owned by a Mr Borowski)!
I gathered some friends and drove there in excitement – only to find a tiny hall with a 10-metre slope made of some funny sort of “carpet”.
Desperate to show off my skills to my friends I got to the top, but despite pointing my skis downhill, gravity wasn’t helping me much to put in a decent turn.
I was told it was best to put some oily wax on my skis to make them go faster.
Jump turns helped. We had fun, that’s for sure, although a couple of my friends kept falling on the carpet, not only bruising themselves but even dislocating fingers!
What I realised back then was that dry slopes showed up your skills and that’s what ski instructors are great at. They can show you how to turn in slow motion, and a good skier can always put in some nice turns (not jump turns) on a dry slope.
Wind the clock forward a few years and I had just completed my first ski season. We decided to have a staff reunion back in London and the chalet girls had this genius idea to meet up in East London’s deepest, darkest corner…
So we all met at Chalet Edelweiss in the Beckton Alps – an outdoor ski slope. Another long carpet. Say no more!!! As it happens, it closed down in 2001 as it was discovered the slope was on top of a toxic spoil heap!
Wind the clock forward almost 20 years, and when my eldest daughter Emilia was eight or nine, I was running out of things to do during the rainy weekends.
One of Momentum Ski’s principal partners are Snow+Rock and they told me they had opened a shop in the Hemel Hempstead Ski Centre. I was curious enough to take Emilia with me to try the indoor ski slope there – this time with snow, albeit man-made!
There was a good rental shop, and before I knew it we found ourselves walking into what felt like an indoor fridge. Skiing on “real” snow! Emilia loved it and we had a great morning together.
Wind the clock forward another 10 years – and I heard about Chel-Ski opening just around the corner from our London office in Fulham. Ben Wray, the proprietor, invited me to come and try it out. I wasn’t really convinced about the idea of a rolling carpet – but now, with three kids to my name, I thought it worthwhile to have a look.
What amazed me was the quality of the rental equipment, the friendliness of the ski instructors and the lovely Alpine Bar upstairs – right next door to Clip ‘n’ Climb climbing arena, a no-brainer for families.
I got on the slope and the carpet started moving. I started snow-ploughing, just to get comfortable with the carpet movements – and then moved on to parallel turns. Before I knew it I was sweating; believe it or not, 20 minutes of this is almost the equivalent of 20 kms on the mountain!
If you live in London, Chel-Ski is London’s largest indoor ski centre offering the very best hi-tech slopes. A fun, safe and controlled environment where you can learn to ski or snowboard as well as perfect existing skills.
This is something that can benefit all skiers, from those who are still to try on ski boots for the first time to those training for the next Olympics!
So Why Chel-Ski?
They cater for all abilities and skiing on a large rotating platform is similar to running on a treadmill.
It’s constant skiing, without lift queues and allows their ski instructors to teach you in real time, as well as helping you building your stamina, retain movements at a faster rate and ultimately help you to build your muscle memory.
Their slope can be adjusted in both speed and gradient allowing you to train at a suitable level. Whilst snow is a much more forgiving surface, mat demands accuracy, which helps your technique longer term. Bad habits are highlighted very quickly on a mat.
There is also a large mirror in front of each slope which allows you to see yourself as you train and to analyse your own technique as you ski. And what’s more you can burn a lot of calories during each session and it’s a lot more fun than running on a treadmill!
Last but not least, Chel-Ski have a great Alpine-style bar and restaurant serving delicious raclettes with the proper charcuterie salad and of course the must have “gherkins”!
It’s a great spot for a drink or a party.
Oh, and where do you go if you don’t live in London?
Heidi, one of the team here at Momentum Ski, has skied and raced on nearly all of the artificial slopes the UK has to offer. Here is her guide:
Around the time that grass skiing was invented (which incidentally is the sport which introduced my parents to each other!), the world’s first permanent dry ski slope opened in Torquay in October 1963.
There had been plenty of temporary slopes constructed prior to this, including one in Piccadilly Circus in the 1950s (!), but Torquay offered a year-round solution to those who wanted to ski in the summer, when no snow was on offer.
Of course, in the UK you can ski on real snow in Scotland, the Pennines and the Lake District during the winter, however, the seasons can be only a couple of weeks, if not days long, due to the reliance on good snowfall.
Dry Slopes in the UK
Following the opening of Torquay, dry slopes sprung up all over the British Isles, with over 120 in operation at the peak of their popularity, including the one at Beckton. With affordable lessons and equipment rental available, they helped make skiing much more accessible to the masses.
Now around half of those 120 remain in operation and some of the best – which I can vouch for – are the dry slopes at Hillend in Edinburgh (complete with a chairlift!), at Rossendale, Silksworth (near Sunderland) and Pendle in the North (the latter of which is where Olympian Dave Ryding learnt to ski), Stoke, Swadlincote and Norwich further south and Pontypool and Llandudno in Wales.
This decline in dry slopes is no doubt partly due to the opening of indoor ski centres, with artificial snow unsurprisingly providing a more similar experience to skiing in the alps than plastic bristles, which I often describe to people as skiing on toothbrushes! They also mean you can escape poor weather, with no rain forecast indoors.
A Guide to Indoor Slopes (& Beyond!)
There are now 6 indoor snow centres within the UK. In addition to the aforementioned The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, which replaced the old dry ski slope there, Snozone have centres in Milton Keynes and Castleford, Yorkshire within the Xscape entertainment centres where you can also try your hand at bowling, golf, climbing, trampolining or catch a film, go shopping and eat at one of the many restaurants. You can even try indoor skydiving at the Milton Keynes centre!
And there are plans for more to open in the future including in Swindon, Bristol and Sheffield, replacing the infamous Sheffield Ski Village, which is where I learnt to ski alongside a raft of Olympians, but which sadly closed down following a series of arson attacks.
Elsewhere in the world, you can ski and board indoors at locations as far-flung as China, where the world’s largest indoor ski resort is located, Brazil, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand and Dubai, where the indoor chairlift whisks you over a penguin enclosure! In the Netherlands, you can even watch a FIS World Cup race at the centre in Landgraaf.
With all the centres offering lessons, not only are they a great place to get to grips with the basics before heading out to the mountains, they also host freestyle and race training sessions for budding competitors of all ages, so if you or your kids are keen to learn new skills and get involved in competitions, the opportunity is right on your doorstep, without a mountain in sight!
The Moral of the Story
So, the moral of the story is this: whilst none of the above can replace the mountain experience, if you’ve never put skis on before, this experience will save you faffing around for your first two precious days on the mountain getting familiar with your equipment and the feel of skiing. Then you can move on to a nice green run rather than a moving carpet nursery slope to make the most of your ski school time.