A couple of years ago I went skiing for the first time since I was at school, and it was not until after I was taken to the top of a red run, that our instructor and I realised I was in way over my head. With only one way down. Luckily I survived to tell the tale. So this time round, with another ski trip in the diary, I was determined to get a dry run in first. Or not so dry, as the case may be . . .
SNOZONE in Milton Keynes is just over half an hour by train plus a 10 minute cab drive from Euston. With proper powdery snow kept frozen at minus 5 degrees, it feels like the real deal, just without the mountain edge to fall off.
If you are doing a course, it is compulsory to wear a helmet – which, along with skis and boots are included within the ticket price. And while obviously you can wear your own kit, waterproof jackets and trousers can also be hired. Everyone needs to wear gloves on the slopes and I hope it goes without saying you also need socks. All essentials like this can be bought in the store if you do not have them though.
During ski season, unless you like crowds, I hear the school holidays are to be avoided, as are weekends. We visited on a Monday in February – and the centre was pleasantly buzzy, but not rammed. There was hardly any wait for the drag lift, and even if you are Bambi-on-ice, the chance of careering into anyone while on the slopes is slim.
There are course and lesson options on offer for any level; we booked in for the full day Plough to Parallel course, which is about 7.5 hours, including breaks. Promoted as being ‘for skiers who have just learned to ski, who find themselves stuck in a snow plough, or who are coming back to skiing after a time away’ it was the perfect refresher course for building confidence. It is also worth noting that a prerequisite for doing this course, is being able to snow-plough turn. This said, a few of our group’s ‘time away’ turned out to be more than three decades, and some kind of glossed over the part about needing to be able to snow-plough at all!
The first small step on our course was taking the travelator just a few meters up a gentle slope, to demonstrate where we were at with our snow-plough turns. And after the first person went hurtling straight into the safety net, I think our instructor Gary may have lost the will. Amazingly though – we all managed to get into the swing of things pretty fast. And after learning a few techniques – such as lifting the heel of our uphill leg to help us turn with the correct alignment – some, myself included, were able to tackle to top slope before lunch.
The rest of the afternoon included more clever exercises to help with smooth turns and good posture, with plenty of time for practice. And by the end of the day, most of us were eagerly whizzing down from 170 metres with short parallel turns, carving our skis and stopping with hockey stops. Gary even managed to get us skiing backwards and doing 360 turns. Something we all thought was a joke when he suggested it the morning, and was true testament to his skills as a teacher. As was Gary’s ability to manage our group of 7, dispute quite a difference in abilities, he ensured every one of us had some 1-2-1 time and really developed us all to the best of our individual abilities.
Chatting further to Gary, we learnt that these course is especially popular with women – who want to learn the technicalities of skiing. Whereas men generally speaking use speed to cover up their technical inadequacies. *Ahem* Snow much more (sorry) than plough to parallel, the course not only gave us a chance to improve our technique and control but it has left me chomping at the bit to get on the real slopes. And this time around – I’ve got this. *She says praying they are not famous last words*
602 Marlborough Gate