Ski the carpet mountain
Keen to get your legs moving and your heart pumping? Got skiing on the brain and itchy feet? Well, even if you don’t yet have a ski holiday planned, there are options open to you. For a little island in the gulf stream, we don’t do too badly for ski options. I thought I’d tried them all, but a few weeks ago I went conveyor-belt skiing in the UK, and it was great.
What? Conveyor-belt skiing?
Imagine a gym treadmill. Then imagine it made out of white carpet, as long and wide as a big livingroom, and tipped up to make a slope. This wonderous invention is Skiplex, and there are three in the UK – in Reading, Basingstoke and Chiswick. You should know that I’m not under any duress to pretend to you that I liked it, and I was a bit concerned about the ground moving beneath my feet, or worse still, me moving rapidly up the slope to be deposited gracelessly off the back end and into the abyss. I was expecting it to be, at the very least, quite embarrassing, fairly brief, and not much like skiing.
But no – I can happily report that Skiplex skiing was excellent. Here’s what was so good about it:
1. It wasn’t scary or out-of-control
In front of the revolving surface is a handrail, and beyond that is your instructor. They have a remote control gizmo in their hand at all times, and they are poised and ready to stop the slope moving at a moment’s notice, should you fall over, or pull any other alarming moves.
I ratcheted into the ski boots that Skiplex provide (you can take your own if you want to – it could be useful for wearing them in, I’d imagine), then clicked into the specially de-edged skis that my instructor Daniel had laid out for me, pointing downhill on the carpeted hill. The resistence of ski on carpet is such that there was no slipping about like on a nursery slope. I held onto the handrail, Daniel started up the rotation, and the surface slid past under my skis – I was, effectively, skiing within seconds.
2. Perfect for beginners
For first-time skiers, a visit to Skiplex would pay dividends. From one moment to the next, they’d be skiing – learning balance and coordination, with the freedom to make little adjustments, get used to the feeling of their shins on the front of the boots etc without falling over every few minutes. The instructor is right in front of them to give directions – no bellowing across the piste – so the lessons can be learned much faster. The beginner can hold onto the handrail as long as they like, and beyond the instructor is a mirror the width of the slope, so they can see what their body positioning is like.
3. Excellent exercise
Skiplex claim that five minutes spent on the rotating piste is equivalent to half an hour on the mountain. There are no chairlift queues, no pistemap consultations, no stopping for long ski school crocodiles. Of course, there’s no sunshine, mountains or snow either, but that’s not the point. This is skiing pared down to its bare essentials – skis, legs, and a substitute hill, for 15-minute sessions of continuous ski training. I could really feel it the next day – not as pain, but as increased muscle strength in exactly the muscles that needed it.
4. Get ready for your holiday
Skiplex sessions before your trip will exercise the exact muscles you need to ski on snow. It’ll make a huge difference to the fitness, stamina, confidence and all-round elegance of the first few days, and if there’s something I usually lack on a season’s first few runs on snow, it’s elegance. The big grin is always present though…
5. Ideal for progression
I was a snowboarder before I skied, and as such don’t have much regard for making perfect turns or doing things properly – to me skis are just a mode of merry transport, and I ski cheerfully but artlessly. A few years ago I broke a ligament in my right knee, and since then I do really rubbish left turns. On the mountain I disguise this fact by traversing further, or stopping to look around the place before putting in left-hand turns, or just skidding around the place. I suspected I was compensating for my weedy knee with bad style, but never had to face it before. Until now. At Skiplex, looking at myself in the mirror, it was immediately obvious that my right hand turns were relatively smooth and round, and my left-hand ones were jerky, angular and hurried. And with turn after turn after turn, I had the time and consistent hill angle to start trying to change my ways, strengthen the bad knee, and break bad habits.
(Incidentally, talking about snowboarders, Skiplex does work for them too – they angle the piste steeper and run the handrail down the slope rather than across it, but the principle is just the same).
6. And it really was fun
Ski holidays are about a lot more than just the skiing, of course, but Skiplex does do a good job of being more than just a specialised gym. There’s a little bar decked out in Alpine style, and as well as the ski and snowboard sessions, they also offer sledging and party hire.
Have a go yourself
Go to www.skiplex.co.uk to find out more. There are Skiplexes in Basingstoke, Chiswick and Reading – I went to the Reading one. A session costs £35 for adults and £28 for children, with discounts for pre-buying multiple sessions – buy ten and get 20% off. It’s not exactly cheap, but as a way of making the most of a pricey and precious ski holiday where there’s never enough time on snow to waste any feeling below par, I’d say it was well worth it.
Many other people seem to feel the same – when I was there in the run-up to the season, the slope was fully-booked every weekend, and doing a good trade in the weeks too.