The equipment sales team from the Covent Garden store took a trip up to the Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead last week to try and get a feel for what it takes to become a ski freestyler of the future.
With the winter Olympics in full swing the British freestyle skiing and snowboarding teams have never looked more promising. We’ve managed to leave the more ‘geographically gifted’, lets say, competitors wondering where on earth we’ve come from?
Skiing inside is as odd as it sounds. Firstly, it looks a lot steeper from the bottom than I thought it would. The run is broken up into three areas. Looking up from the bottom on the right is a short, slightly shallower beginner’s area.
Taking up the majority of the space in the middle is the main run (estimated at blue/red gradient) and off to the left is the freestyle area. It’s a lot colder than you think it’s going to be too. Although I’d been lent a brand new Oakley jacket and trousers to play with while there, a mid-layer under your jacket is a sensible idea. One of the staff told us they keep the inside at a chilly -5 or -6 to stop the snow from melting.
Then there’s the snow itself. Obviously, it’s hardly going to trump Japanese powder, but we were all surprised at how fast and realistic the snow felt. At slower speeds and toward the sides and the bottom of the run where snow had accumulated it felt a little like wet sand, but it beats skiing on dry-slope any day.
Freestyle nights are run Thursday and Friday nights every week, two sessions per night (each two hours long). We went on a Friday late session – 8pm till 10pm, having had to get out of central London at rush hour (trains run out of Euston run every 15 minutes and cost around £20 return). The park the team builds on Fridays is slightly smaller, we found out later, than the ones they build on Thursdays. From the top it consisted of a small rail, a kicker in the middle with a long/short take off, and a box at the bottom. Perfect for getting to grips with the basics of freestyle.
After a few warm-up runs to dust off a few of the cobwebs from not skiing as regularly as we’d like, we lined up at the top of the park. Being the most experienced in the park I went first. I’d not hit jumps or rails for a couple of years following knee surgery, but the size of the course was just right to help me find my freestyle feet again.
For Anne and Marcus, this would be their first time skiing on anything but a groomed run, or in Marcus’ case, a slalom racetrack. They both agreed that the advice given by the snow centre of having a good level of skiing before entering the park is essential, but that translating previous skiing experience into park skiing is actually not too difficult. That is to say that the bigger features you get in alpine resorts are still for those with senior ability, but for the purpose of getting more people involved in this new and exciting sport, the features seemed spot on.