The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead

Until relatively recently, UK residents were at a serious disadvantage when it came to learning to ski. As we are not blessed by much in the way of mountains or snow in the UK, we were always limited to dry ski slopes. When I first started, this was no exception. The dry slope in Aldershot, Hampshire was where I first started my adventure.

Thanks to advances in technology and atmospherics, a snowy mountainside can now be simulated in an indoor environment.

The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead is where I first skied indoors. It offers very realistic snow, two slopes (Main and Beginner), good instructors and a cool (simulated) mountain air. Beginner lessons are not taken on the main slope, offering a safer and more intimate experience for those less familiar with the world of snow sports.

Initial Review – late 2009

More to prove that I can review more than technology, I thought I’d post a review about my recent experience and day-out to the indoor (real snow) ski-slope ‘The Snow Centre‘. Having not skied for over a year and a half (having missed the 2008/2009 season), the prospect of getting back onto real snow was exciting.

The Snow Centre is an enclosed hillside, with artificial snow created for the surface. For those that ski will be familiar with artificial snow, and how sugary it can be. The snow at The Snow Centre is not like this at all. From the moment I stepped onto it, I couldn’t tell the difference between natural snow, and the snow that was under my boots. Skiing on it produces equally pleasing results, with turns cutting smoothly through the snow, with the edges gripping the correct amount. The temperature and general atmosphere in The Snow Centre is kept at a comfortable mountain temperature, and if you closed your eyes, you’d have a very hard time not imagining yourself on a mountainside. By the time you finish, you will indeed feel like you’ve just been doing real skiing.

During your time at the centre you can’t help but marvel at skiing on real snow in the UK and indoors of all things. The experience is really rather surreal, and remarkably zen.

If you are into lessons, The Snow Centre can provide. I myself can’t talk about the quality of the lessons as I did not attend one. From what I observed of ongoing lessons, the instructors are very professional, and have a very good way of teaching, sometimes using little games as a way to both lighten the atmosphere, and to help teach basic skills and coordination.

My only small complaints with The Snow Centre, is that the mountainside isn’t large enough to get a decent rhythm going, however I could just be finding this because of my experience level. I wanted to open the taps a little more, but couldn’t due to the space restrictions. As you would expect with any indoor (and UK Based) ski run, there is one thing missing:

There is no mountain chalet… When the clock reaches half-past 12, you start looking about for the nearest provider of alcohol, expecting to be able to sit out in a deckchair in the sun for half an hour, and just chill with a nice glass of Glüvine, or a nice cold beer (not to mention some lunch). Alas, The Snow Centre has failed to provide just such a service, even if skiing is one of those things that you can indeed do after you’ve downed two or three glasses of your favorite beverage (HEY, for some of us, it makes us ski better!)

For those of you who want to experience what it is really like to ski, this is the best way of doing so, short of going abroad to a resort and spending a whole week doing it. I would say this is better, because if you don’t like it, you’ve not wasted an entire week trying to do something that you clearly won’t enjoy. For almost everyone, skiing is something that you would find relaxing, intensely rewarding, a great workout, and give you a skill that can take you to so many places in the future.

Reflecting on the Snow Centre – Three years on.

The only two drawbacks is the  main slope is not the biggest around. While it is enough to get familiar with your equipment and the feeling of skiing, you will not be able to link many turns before you reach the bottom and have to return to the top. Peak times can mean more queuing than skiing. This is not a problem if you are partaking in a lesson, as instructors have a private queue to allow their lessons to continue uninterrupted.

The venue is very modern and offers a good aprés-ski option in the form of an upstairs café / bar overlooking the slopes. A Snow and Rock shop is present in the entrance hall to the centre, and offers a place where you can try out the latest skies on offer.

SNO!zone at Milton Keynes Xscape was one of the first indoor ski experiences in the UK. While the snow is not ‘quite’ as realistic as that provided by The Snow Centre, the main slope is wider, longer and more varied, with the snow conditions often being a bit more random than those at Hemel. This is not to say that the piste is poorly maintained, just that it is more like a real mountain. I would grade this an easy to average blue by European standards. The beginners slope is slightly longer and wider than the one at Hemel, offering a larger area for lessons. The slope is of average gradient for beginners. Personally I would grade the beginners slope as a green or very easy blue.

Something to note for those wanting to have a chilled out family day at Milton, is that no photography or videoing is allowed. The official line was to do with Health and Safety concerns. This might put some families off as they would want to have the occasional snap or video or their children learning to ski.

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