It’s 9am on Sunday. I’m in a giant hanger of a building, surrounded by unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.
People are strolling around carrying long bags containing mystery items (later revealed to be skis) or nonchalantly clutching skateboards without wheels under their arms (these are snowboards). They seem happy, eager and relaxed. I am none of these things. I am definitely out of my comfort zone – I’m in Snozone.
Just off junction 32 of the M62 seems an unlikely place to dump 1500 tonnes of real snow and make a 170m long ski-run. But it’s there, housed in the entertainment complex Xscape. And, despite looking forward to it all week, that was just what I wanted to do – escape. Nerves had got me.
But I need not have worried at all. For a start, the staff throughout SnoZone could not have been more friendly and helpful. Everything was explained, from fitting your boots to how to carry skis.
To help me chill out and get into the zone, my taster-session at SnoZone began by having a go at sledging first.
This is great fun for kids, and big kids, and what better way to cool off on a sunny day than with a bit of fun sledging?
SnoZone’s a giant fridge –it’s -5 in there – although you don’t really feel that cold and, a couple of climbs getting your sledge back up the hill and you soon warm up. All you need to wear are some comfy clothes, waterproof gloves and wellies (you can hire everything there including waterproofs and wellies).
The sledging area was empty at 10am – just as well as I found I could not steer a bum sledge!
New to the sport are some single runner sit-on sledges (like a single ski with a seat and a handle you hold on to, to steer). These are immense fun and the kids will love them.
In half an hour there was plenty of time to warm up, have a few sledge races and a few goes on the ice run. For this you climb into a round rubber-tube dinghy thing and set off down an ice slide at high speed. What’s not to like? I could have stayed all morning on the ice slide, although sitting with any degree of comfort for the rest of the week could have been tricky.
But it was lesson time and I needed to clip on my boots. One top tip is to make sure you have some comfy socks which go all the way up to your knees so that you don’t rub your skin sore. If you want to splash out you can treat yourself to a pair in the shop just as you enter SnoZone or in one of several quality sports and ski-wear shops in Xscape. Alternatively dig out your wellie socks or nick a pair of your dads.
The boots look like something you’d walk the surface of the moon on, and weigh as much as a small planet.
For a non-ski-er like me it was a bonus to be told exactly how to get into them, thus avoiding feeling a complete fool. The trick is to clip yourself in so they’re firm, but you can still wiggle your toes.
Here’s the science bit, skis have to be adjusted to your weight and experience level, so they unclip when you need to fall off, and not before. The staff do this for you but they will ask how much you weigh. So, with that nightmare revelation behind me I spent thoroughly enjoyable hour with instructor Mark Quinn, who was patience personified.
The usual lesson is an hour and a half (and costs just under £30 including skis, helmet and boots) but even within an hour I could ski down a little slope and stop, could snowplough (put my skis in a wedge shape) I could get in and out of my skis, go up a pull rope and I knew how to stand and lean (forwards, always forwards, not backwards!)
This earned me my level one accreditation and two thirds of level two. Alas I only seem to be able to turn left, not right, at one point gliding left off the slope and almost out of the exit doors! So I either need more lessons and practice or I will have to ski on thin mountains and go down like a helter skelter, corkscrewing to the left!
Lessons take place on a beginners slope, away from the main run. There are four levels to accomplish to be main-slope competent (usually four to six hours training).
The main slope looks terrific fun. A button lift takes you up and you freestyle down. My other half’s a proficient ski-er and he gave it the thumbs up – definitely worth a few pre-ski holiday sessions.
It’s so much quieter in SnoZone in summer, so now’s the perfect time to lock some skis on and give it a go. I can’t wait for my next lesson.