The Snow Centre
St Albans Hill,
Tel: 0844 770 7227
It is not the first thing that springs to mind – to go skiing on a swelteringly hot day in the middle of a British summer. The kids thought it was a great idea, as did M. I should explain as there is a bit of history behind this review. Earlier this year I went skiing for the first time. My son, X has been a few times and really enjoys it. A, my youngest son has not been but is secretly envious (parents can tell these things) about his brother going and M does not want to learn to ski but is keen on sledging is also a touch green about my trip.
So it was with a mixed heart that we headed not to Switzerland, France or Italy but Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead to be precise to what looks like from the outside a giant warehouse but inside looks like the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios.
The Snow Centre has been using real snow for six years now inside the vast indoor mountain. There are two slopes, one for beginners and sledging and one much longer (and higher) for the more familiar. As I mentioned I have tried skiing before and it’s tough and hard on the body but worth persevering at.
We checked in and just like on a real slope you go and get your gear, boots, jacket, skis, helmet and gloves etc. (They have everything so you can turn up in shorts as I did and get fully kitted out). To enhance the visual experience the walls are covered in photo dioramas of mountain ranges. With a slight squint of the eye you could believe for a moment that you were in Switzerland. The temperature is spot on – cold!
Steph and Ciaran were our instructors. Steph has just returned from Japan teaching on the slopes and Ciaran learned his craft in Austria with his father on business trips. They were great – clear, knowledgeable and patient. A who is 10 years old really took to it well and seemed to achieve in 15 minutes what took me three hours to master. In no time he was turning and breaking on the slope (a few falls of course but the beauty of the Snow Centre is the soft snow they produce is perfect for beginners bumps).
X went straight onto the adult slope and after a few minutes had brushed up his skills and was off. It was the first time we had seen him ski as his experiences have always been with the school or friends. He was really quite good, that’s what comes of learning early in life.
After a short break it was time for sledging. This was a total hoot and the highlight of the session for M (and the kids as well). The weapon of choice was either a giant inner tube or small sit on sledge. The tubes are great ‘freefall’ fun but hard to steer where as the sledges are more controllable. Ciaran put up props to weave in and out of or demolish to make it more interesting. Family races ensued along with a lot of white powder and crashes. This was a real blast, perfect activity for a kids birthday party or celebration.
Exhausted but exhilarated our time was up and we went to change and hand back our gear. But the ski ‘experience’ doesn’t end there. Upstairs is The Lodge Bar and Kitchen. Decked out with all the trappings of a cool après ski hangout. Long benches and wooden tables look out over the ‘slopes’ down below. So even if you’re not on the snow you can still see what’s going on.
We’d worked up quite an appetite so I was delighted to see that they have hearty alpine food as well as pasta, pizza and burgers. M and A shared a ‘Solden’ Platter with crispy chicken, potato wedges, onion rings, garlic bread and tortilla chips with some dips. X and me went for the full mountain experience of tartiflette, that satisfying combination of potatoes, smoked bacon and Camembert baked to perfection. Only order this if you’re really hungry!
The bar is well stocked with plenty of soft drinks as well as a small but good selection of wines. To round things off (because like all skiers we felt that we had earned it) we had vanilla baked cheesecake which although is a guilty pleasure made us fell less guilty than usual. The boys also had some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
So what on the face of it looks like madness was one of the best days out we have had in a long time. The car was full of chatter all the way home about skiing, when can we do it again? Can we go skiing for real please dad? It was not an expensive day for what you get, they do a raft of deals for families or individual lessons with ski pass times from one hour to all day, weekly, monthly etc. If you are already a skier then this is a fantastic way of brushing up your existing skills before you head for the slopes in January and if you’ve never been skiing before I can think of no better way to find out if you’d like it or not (and save yourself a fortune in the process). A brilliant day I only wish we lived nearer, although it is a lot nearer than Switzerland so I shouldn’t complain.