Winter sports on a small scale

Date Posted: 10/10/2012

Tutorials can be arranged for any ability.

When The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead approached complete novice Carrie Martindale to come and try them out, she was fair game.

I’m the sort of person that falls over just by looking at a pair of roller skates, so I was a little unsure of how I’d get on hurtling down the real-snow slopes of The Snow Centre on skis. That notwithstanding, I was still curious, so I decided having a go was worth the (minimal) risk of breaking my limbs.

At first glance, The Snow Centre is impressive. It was built on the site of the old dry-ski slope on St. Albans Hill, opened in 2009, and is an architect’s dream - both inside and out. Its main claim to fame is that it is the closest ‘real’ snow centre to London.

On first glance, it appears very chaotic in the huge reception-cum-changing area, mainly due to its open-plan aspect, but after you’ve got used to things (which happens quite quickly), everything makes a lot more sense.

Never fear – suitable clothing can be hired at the centre

If you’re like me and never been skiing before, it’s probably likely you don’t have any of the gear either. Fear not, however, as the venue has reasonably priced waterproof clothing hire, which after the unpleasant experience of having to say my weight out-loud, resulted in some fairly well-fitting togs; and the helmets, boots and skis come as part of a lesson or lift pass package.

Once you’ve wrapped yourself up for the cold, you’re ready to face the slopes. Luckily, not the 160 metre main slope for me, which looked a little daunting to a beginner like me.

My small group of eight was met at our designated bench by two impossibly young instructors, Nathan and David, for our tutored session. The tutors checked that everyone was wearing their clothes and safety helmets correctly – and I got off to a typically great start by being told I was holding my skis upside-down.

Lessons are designed to improve your confidence and balance.

Pictured: My small group had plenty of opportunity to take on the slope.

The shock of the change in temperature is really incredible as you venture out into another world; the alpine backdrops accentuating the oddness of the ‘real’ snow slopes in front of you. It’s kept at a particular temperature in order to preserve the snow, but it ‘snows’ in the centre a couple of times a week as well, I was told.

Lessons suitable for groups of all abilities

The one-hour beginner group lessons I participated in are designed to introduce you to the equipment, the basic stance, and some movement and balance. Forgetting an unpleasant feeling of being out of control initially (when wearing one ski as part of a balancing exercise), and the fact that I fell over (painlessly) a few times, I really felt like I had achieved something by the end of the lesson.

If you are organising a group skiing holiday and some of your members need a refresher, I would recommend The Snow Centre, or a similar venue, as you can arrange lessons for various levels, as well as just booking a lift pass and doing your own thing.

The beginner lessons take place on the ‘baby slope’ where there isn’t a lift, so you are forced to side step up the slope in order to get to the top. This is incredibly tricky at first and a bit tiring generally, but I suppose it serves to getting you used to the skis.

The two instructors were really helpful and encouraging, and I felt safe in their company as one stood at the top with you, and one near the bottom. They were so proficient on the snow, that they were swooping here there and everywhere in order to pick up their pupils as they swerved and careered down the slope; and also kind enough to retrieve me a few times.

The main slope is 160m.

Pictured: The main slope is 160 metres.

I have to say that my companion and I were more than a bit jealous of the smaller children hurtling down the larger slopes in their toboggans – sheer joy standing out on their rouged faces. And if group travel organisers feel equally excited by this prospect, it’s not just for children, with tobogganing available for all ages or as part of a team-building session. You can even have a go at snowboarding.

Eating, drinking and meeting at The Snow Centre

As far as facilities are concerned, The Snow Centre has a range of good-sized meeting rooms (with views of the slopes) that can be booked for groups. You can even hire the entire centre for an exclusive event. The bar area upstairs, again with views, has a nice open-plan aspect and is well-equipped for hot and cold buffet lunches, drinks and snacks.

There’s even an ‘après ski’ bar out on the slopes, although when I was there this seemed to be the residence of some appreciative viewers of my beginners’ class – well they were appreciative of our comic value anyway.

I came away from the experience feeling exhilarated, if a little exhausted. But mainly I felt happy that I’d given something new a try, and I felt that the staff at the centre had really contributed to that warm glow inside.

For further group travel information contact:

0845-258 9000

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