The temperatures outside may be in the high-teens and twenties but there’s definitely a wintery feel in the Baby Routes house right now. A few weeks back our first Christmas present of the year arrived. It came via a rare car journey from Switzerland so I’m guessing it is something that wouldn’t fly well. I’m still in awe of my sister’s very Swiss organisation skills though. And no, before you ask we haven’t opened it. Yet….
Shortly after this first round of Julymas excitement I found myself in our swelteringly hot attic rummaging about for those sexiest items of any winter sports enthusiast’s wardrobe – winter thermals. Padded jackets, snowsuit and salopettes soon followed. We were going skiing.
Roo took to her skis for the first time aged 3 and 4 months in February this year. We were staying with family so it was a really relaxed introduction for her involving lots of snow play and a couple of sessions for tinies at the local ski school. It wasn’t enough for her to really get beyond learning to keep her balance and some basic snow plough practice but that didn’t matter. She had fun and that’s the best learning outcome for a tiny new skier.
When we told Roo she would be going skiing again she couldn’t wait. ‘Will they have snow like in Switzerland?’ she asked. Well yes…the snow at The Snow Centre is ‘real’ it just doesn’t come from clouds and it is indoors. ‘Will the snow come from the ceiling?’. ‘Oh no,’ we answered confidently, ‘it comes from special snow cannons on the sides of the slopes’. She wasn’t having any of it. When we got there, it turns out our 3 year old daughter knows more than we do. The snow does come from the ceiling at The Snow Centre. Roo-1, Parents- 0.
Ceiling snow wasn’t my only surprise. I’m not sure quite what I had been expecting but my experience of skiing on artificial pistes in the past has been both limited and mixed. The first time I ever tried on skis was on an artificial dry ski slope as a birthday party treat in my early teens. I distinctly remember my skis dangling precariously through netting over a very unsnowy woodland drop at one point and I came away with minor friction burns.
These days things are a lot more sophisticated. As well as plentiful real snow, The Snow Centre is also clean and airy, with fantastic viewing facilities and none of the grungy changing or toilet area that I’ve come to half expect from leisure institutions typically associated with entertaining teenagers. The Snow Centre caters well for all ages and abilities, with everything from snow-fun sledging sessions for 4 year olds up to adult group evening classes that include complimentary apres-ski refreshments and social time. The snow equipment area could be straight out a large ski hire shop in the Alps and both our check-in to the centre and ski equipment pick-up was quick and efficient. If we had wanted to, we could have hired warm clothing and if you leave your thick socks on the stairs at home by accident, you can buy some there. Alternatively you can borrow your husband’s and make him go barefoot. I’m fairly sure that one wasn’t in our marriage vows…
Roo had forgotten about ski boots. With her tiny size 6 feet she wore the smallest size available at The Snow Centre (size 6-7) and found them unfamiliarly stiff to begin with. She was soon marching about in them with that unique heel-toe clunky gait of the seasoned skier. So far, so good. Ski-suited and booted we soon met our ski instructor, David Rogers and it was time to wave goodbye to Beth and my long-suffering husband who had selflessly volunteered for sitting the lesson out to mind her. Children can ski in a private lesson from 3 onwards or in group lessons from the age of 4. One year old babies though are too little. We explained this to Beth but she remained in denial. The skis, the boots and all that snow looked far too exciting and my husband had to retrieve her after she escaped his clutches and made it as far as the white stuff, determined not to be left out.
Roo and I headed out through the double doors and into a fresh -2°C, making me glad of those padded layers. Taking us first to the nursery ski area, David first got us balancing on one ski and doing some basic exercises for balance before we put on the second ski. David turned out to be the perfect instructor for our keen but shy preschooler. His patient and kind manner with Roo worked a treat at getting her confidence back on skis. It wasn’t long before we progressed on to the kids’ training slope, where Roo watched a group lesson in action for a minute or so before heading off to the magic carpet for her first attempt at coming down a proper slope and at practicing her rather lopsided snow-ploughs at an angle . I was unsure about how she would get on but she made it down fine and when David offered to take her up a bit higher, she leaped at the chance. Roo, it turns out, has her Dad’s daredevil approach to slopes.
Whilst I had made it clear to our instructor that I wasn’t the main focus of our lesson, David didn’t forget me. Despite managing to get myself down blues, most red runs and the very occasional nice black in good fluffy snow conditions, I have never had a formal lesson. I learnt to ski as a fortunate consequence of my sister relocating to Switzerland many years back and despite both her and her husband’s continued efforts to make me a passable skier, my born-on-his-skis brother-in-law is frequently to be found at the bottom of a ski slope raising his eyebrows in despair at my poor technique and unashamed fondness for fair weather skiing on nice wide, ice-free slopes. This doesn’t really bother me – I love skiing at my own level. A few tips to improve my skills were only going to help me get more out of my slope time though and as I found myself practicing rather dodgy 360 degree turns half way up the training slope I realised I have a very long way to go. At least it’s never too late to learn!
Another few goes for Roo and we moved onto another larger and less busy training slope where a group of snowboarders had just finished their lesson. This one included a rope pully lift and as Roo practiced her snow-ploughs and ‘making snakes’ down the lower slope, I was let loose for a few controlled ski runs down from the top. Too soon our hour was up. Roo had gone from nervously dragging herself about on one ski to requesting that her last run on the largest training slope involved ‘going down really fast’. One class in and she received a Snow Centre progress record card with all the first stage requirements ticked off. It’s a shame we don’t live a bit closer as I think Roo would absolutely love to join one of the weekly group classes and work her way through the different levels. I am in no doubt she would be skiing better than me in no time.
Back inside it was time for a quick change and upstairs for lunch. The canteen at The Snow Centre is not your standard shades of grey sports-centre eatery. Instead it has embraced its alpine theme fully. The whole restaurant is decked out with wooden logs, long benches and offers ski food favourites such as schnitzel and bratwurst. The restaurant overlooks the ski slopes of The Snow Centre so you can keep an eye on all the action. This made me realise that lunchtime is definitely the time to come if you want the main slope to yourself. We were there on a Sunday at the start of the school holidays and the main slope was never particularly busy but at lunchtime there were just two people skiing on it at one point!
If you’re there to watch the kids (and wife) in a ski lesson as my patient other half was, then you can do so either from the warmth indoors accompanied by a hot chocolate perhaps or from a balcony viewing area (coat required). There is plenty of space for kids and the toilet facilities are large and clean, with a dedicated baby change. My husband was particularly impressed with the great coffee and that there were additional baby changing facilities in the men’s toilets – according to him this is not as common place as perhaps it ought to be.
On the way out from The Snow Centre we poked our noses into the Snow and Rock kit shop downstairs, just about managing to resist some rather spectacular sale bargains on ski boots. Mine have never fitted again after being pregnant with Roo and my greek shaped feet mean the average ski-hire boot is a bit uncomfy. Maybe next time…
What we definitely will be back to The Snow Centre for is another ski lesson for Roo before our next ski trip. With its real snow and lovely teachers, The Snow Centre is a perfect place for kids to get used to skis so that they are ready and enthusiastic at the start of a ski holiday and there are even specific 2 day pre-ski holiday prep classes on offer. It’s also somewhere I’d recommend ahead of booking a ski holiday if you are a new skier, adult or child. Ski holidays are so expensive these days that to be able to test out the sport for novice adult and child skiers before you invest is a really nice option. For adults, it can be intimidating to go skiing with a bunch of friends and family and be the only non-skier or green-run aficionado. The Snow Centre offers a really nice way to be ski-ready should you want to join them on the slopes and you can opt for evening adult-only ski classes too when the daredevil mini-skiers are snoring and dreaming snow-powdery dreams.
For those a week or so into the school summer holidays and out of activity ideas then you are saved! On our way our we spotted lots of posters up with some great summer holiday deals and events. There are ski, snowboarding and sledging sessions and lessons across the summer, with deals available on both summer season passes and ‘6 pack’ lesson deals. On the August bank holiday you can even try out snowsports for just £1 (ages 4+). They are also offering 20% off lift passes for summer bookings. If you’re kids are of the grown up and heading off on gap year soon variety then the 15th August might also be a date for their diary as The Snow Centre hosts a winter jobs fair. I’m wondering how my hubby would take it if I let slip about my chalet maid ambitions… it’s never too late, right?
- The Snow Centre is based in Hemel Hempstead and only ten minutes from the M25 or 5 minutes from the M1.
- Private ski lessons at The Snow Centre start from £125 for adults (1 hour), £99 for juniors or £49 for 3-5 year olds (30 minutes). Additional party members are at a reduced cost and you can get further discounts by booking your lesson during midweek.
- Children can start skiing at The Snow Centre from age 3 upwards. Those starting aged 3 will need to join a private lesson, whilst those aged 4 and upwards can join a group ski class (from £35 for an hour). Snowboarding classes are offered from 7 years old and up.
- Adults and older children can use the main slope at The Snow Centre for general ski /board time. To use the main slope you do need to be a competent skier and able to use a button lift and to safely control your turns, speed and direction. Check out the website or give them a ring if you’re in any doubt ahead of your visit.
- Make sure you know the weight and height of each member of your party before you arrive to ski at The Snow Centre. You’ll need this information for accurate equipment hire (and don’t round down or your skis will keep coming off when you lean too far forward into your newly perfected turns (or won’t when needed if you round up) which can be pretty dangerous…guilty as charged but I only ever did it once.
- The Snow Centre website is really informative and easy to navigate, answering everything from ‘what level skier am I’ to what to wear, prices and what’s on.
The Snow Centre kindly provided a complimentary private family ski lesson and lunch for the purpose of this post. All opinions, words and dodgy snow ploughs remain, as ever, entirely my own (well Roo’s aren’t perfect yet either).