Indoor Skiing at The Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre

By Elise Hyslop
Published November 2009

We have thousands of top quality sports centres in the UK and quite a few outdoor artificial ski slopes but combinations of the two, namely indoor ski slopes, are still fairly thin on the ground. Perhaps not suprising given the cost of constructing one of these new real snow indoor sports centres.

The latest to open is The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, which cost something in the region of £23 million to build and received planning permission once it became known that construction also included plans to build one of the largest “green roofs” in the country. The grass roof provides insulation as well as a means of collecting rain water. The Snow Centre opened for business in May 2009.

The centre was built on the site of an old outdoor artificial slope and the owners who put up the cash are convinced that the future of winter sports in the UK is well and truly indoors. Having tried a real snow indoor ski slope, not many people would want to go back to the hard, unforgiving artificial slopes we have had to make do with over the years. Skiing or snowboarding on real snow bears some resemblance to the experience offered by Snowflex, Dendix, Astroride, Perma-snow or any of the other artificial materials used, but skiing indoors on the real thing is as close as it gets to being on the mountainside.

At The Snow Centre, the latest in snow generation technology has been employed to make sure both of its 30 metre wide slopes always have a perfect covering of the white stuff. The main slope is 160m long, providing enough scope for a decent ski run or a snowboard descent that might include two or three freestyle features. The training slope is shorter at 100m, yet still perfectly adequate for beginners, younger skiers, as well as the cross-country ski classes that use it. Together the two slopes provide 8000 square metres of snow area.

In terms of lift technology The Snow Centre has opted for two choices. Traditional rope tows, of which there are two, provide a safe, but slower option for youngsters and learners, who don’t need the complications of faster button lifts in the early stages. For everyone else there are two faster POMA button lifts that make sure there are no bottle-necks by providing a fast turnaround.

The new centre in Hemel has only been open for around  six months, yet is already proving popular; a situation that is about to improve for them even more as the next ski season approaches rapidly. What better way for the annual skier or family new to skiing to get some controlled slope time in the bag before flying off to the mountains?

As well as brushing up on technique, a few sessions at the indoor ski school will make every day of a skiing holiday a full-on experience, rather than having to use the first day or two relearning old tricks. For children, the pre-holiday indoor experience can also be perfect to build confidence.

Everything about the environment at The Snow Centre is under control, unlike the situation you may be presented with once you get to the Alps or Dolomites. No language issues, no harsh weather, no pressure in busy lift queues and if the kids do have an off day and want to take some time out, it’s not such a big deal. Building confidence before you depart for your first skiing holiday as a family may make all the difference between it being the first and last or the first of many.

Talking about ski lessons, The Snow Centre offers a comprehensive teaching programme that uses over 100 qualified BASI instructors to deliver the sessions. All disciplines of skiing and snowboarding are covered and there are also options for full day intensive courses to speed up the learning process.

Snowboarding is already a big hit at The Snow Centre, with regular freestyle sessions taking place several times each week. The centre is already part of a circuit of indoor slopes that welcome various themed events throughout the season and they recently hosted a version of the “Burton Scrap Metal” snowboard night that saw several crazy features installed on the slope, including half of a real mini, for an evening of competition, music and prizes.

The centre has a huge stock of top quality equipment for hire too and includes this in the session fees, except for some of the freestyle nights, where people tend to want to use/wreck their own equipment! One thing that they do insist on for most sessions is a helmet, especially for the youngsters on the slopes.

Almost anyone can take part in any session but some, such as the snowboard freestyle evenings, do require a certain level of ability – that’s for safety reasons primarily and so it’s wise to check with the centre staff before turning up if you have any doubts.

Off the slopes, on the “warm side” of the centre, are a café and bar area, complete with an “outdoor” balcony overlooking the slopes for that authentic Gluhwein experience. Also on-site is a large branch of Snow+Rock for a browse or purchase opportunity amongst the wide range of clothing and equipment in stock.

So for millions of Londoners and others in the South East, the opportunity for some real snow skiing or snowboarding is now right on their doorstep.

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