No Snow? No Problem 2.0
Joe Troman takes a look at the UK’s indoor freestyle scene and why so many young guns are coming through so strong.
Cash me outside? No thanks’ I’ll stay indoors.
When we think of freestyle skiing, or any type of skiing for that matter, the first thought that pops in to anyone’s mind would usually involve a mountain covered in snow. Unfortunately for the vast majority of us here in the UK these high alpine scenes aren’t as proximate as we all might wish.
As we mentioned in our previous article, the UK only gets on average get 15.6 snowy days a year, and riding on dry slopes are one way of getting around this. But for many, skiing on upturned toothbrushes doesn’t cut it and they need something much closer to real snow. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The UK has 6 micro-resorts that can guarantee fresh snow every night of the year with 100% visibility all day, no mountain resort can offer that. Since the late 90s, indoor snow centres have been able to control everything from the temperature to how much it snows, so that every day conditions are perfect, a luxury alpine resorts can only dream of!
With the guarantee of great conditions it’s little surprise more and more UK skiers are opting to hone their skills in these oversized fridges.
There is one area that snow domes cannot match mountain resorts for and that is vertical and piste length. With the longest UK slope around 200m in length; those looking to really eat up some piste miles might not want to sacrifice their trip to the mountains just yet. However, the smaller altitude difference is a great option for beginners where the immediate focus isn’t conquering the steepest of the steep.
An unlikely scene where these slopes have started to play a major role is freestyle.
GB Park and Pipe athletes like James “Woodsy” Woods, Madi Rowlands and Jamie Nicholls topping podiums at top flight events in recent years. In the lead up to Sochi 2014 the new generation of British Ski and Snowboard athletes were even dubbed “Fridge-Kids” hailing to their unorthodox gateways into the sport.
The UK has a growing freestyle scene and snow domes are largely responsible for this. Whilst our elite athletes inspire this generation, indoor slopes (and some dry slopes) provide the playground for budding freestylers. Most slopes will build a park every week and open it up for dedicated freestyle evenings.
It’s a strange feeling arriving with your skis on what could be a warm midsummer’s afternoon and squeezing into a swimming pool style changing room – I’m always sure I can smell chlorine – but instead of stripping down into your swimmers you’re piling layers on and shuffling back out to the lockers in your ski boots.
Once you’re on the actual slope it’s easy to see how so many kids are falling in love with freestyle and improving so fast. Having a roof over your head makes the experience much more intense that a park on a mountain. You can hear everything, the zing of an edge hitting a rail to the satisfying thud of bases stomping a landing. Riding at these sessions there is a real sense of community, groups of friends and riders who have never met before will help one another to get that trick dialled. The old school hip hop playing from the speakers at the bottom definitely gets you in the mood too.
The short slopes and fast draglifts allow for features to be hit over and over again in quick succession, providing the ultimate environment for progression. When you consider how long it takes to lap a park in a mountain resort, you could have got at least 3 or 4 laps in on an indoor slope.
And we haven’t even talked about the features yet. Each week shapers will create a totally unique park with features of a variety of levels. From wide boxes and low tabletop jumps for freestyle virgins to huge jumps, wallrides and handrails for park aficionados; there’s something for every ability level. Many of the indoor slopes will also publish park plans in advance on social media so you can check out what features you might be hitting that week in advance. Other centres like The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead invest in producing a video edit of each park night, highlighting the value centres are placing in the growing UK freestyle scene.
If you’ve never given freestyle a go indoors, head along, you wont regret it. I will never proclaim to be incredible in the park – or anywhere near incredible – but every time I have gone to a freestyle night I have learnt something new without fail.
How ‘bout that.
Make sure you check out the Ski Club’s guide to skiing in the UK to find out how you can best make use of one of the many artificial slopes across the country.
I first started regularly attending indoor sessions with my university’s snowsports society, head to www.line-s.co.uk to stay in the loop with all things student snowsports.