Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre: Ski lesson review
Alex Sharp gives his account of his first ever ski lesson, at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead
Think skiing, and white-capped mountains, glorious views and bustling resorts may spring to mind. Hertfordshire might not be high on that list.
However, as a completely novice skier I headed to the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead to learn the ropes before hitting the slopes for the first time in Carezza, northern Italy.
Just a quick train journey from my flat in London and you arrive at a real snow venue, quite a sight compared to the dry slopes you might have encountered in your youth.
This is the real deal; a beginners area, a learners piste and then the largest ski lesson slope in the UK (160m if you’re wondering) all cram into this vast hanger which glistens from the white sheet of actual snow.
There are proper ski lifts and the surrounding hoardings are covered with views from tops of mountains which immerse you in the skiing mindset.
Now to the gear. The Snow Centre kits you out with cutting edge skis, you can hire any relevant clothing you don’t own, and with safety in mind, helmets are provided.
It’s all very smooth, hopefully like your skiing, and once your instructor gives you a quick introduction you’re raring to go.
On first glance, the slopes are chaotic, with numerous lessons in progress and snowboarders zipping past but remarkably the squad of Basi qualified instructors manage to keep all levels of participants safe and practising on the slopes.
My instructor, Daniel, has been warned by myself that my skiing experience is non-existent. As an active sportsman he assured me I’d be fine but heading down even the learner slope with a snow plough (placing your skis in the shape of a pizza slice to keep your pace under control) you immediately realise the level of co-ordination required.
The instructions are clear and concise. With every journey down the ‘learner run’ you are coached and observed through each turn. Daniel tweeked my technique during a variety of exercises to build my confidence heading down the slopes.
As a veteran to Europe’s finest ski resorts, he could illustrate how to pick up the basics – for example not leaning forward too much, how to stop in an emergency, where to balance your weight, the importance of bent knees. I won’t give the secrets away, but when explained one-on-one, it was a real help and enables you to push away any apprehension.
Having negotiated turns (leaning full weight on your outside leg) all the way down a few times, I was introduced to the advanced slope.
The velocity of boarders and fellow skiers gliding past is slightly intimidating but with the reassurance and tips from an instructor guiding you down the contours, quickly builds confidence and security on the slopes.
The lesson flies by and I’m wished a fine trip to Italy, with a list of key pointers to bear in mind on the Dolomites in Carezza.
The key question for me, amongst the glorious cuisine, occasional beverage and basking in the sun, was whether the success of a lesson in Hertfordshire would transfer to an actual ski holiday.
Well, thankfully it did. Having learnt the true basics I managed to challenge a variety of pistes in Italy, accompanied by friends who had skied many times before.
Yes, there were several falls and hushed curses as local kids accelerate past you (trust me it’s depressing), but my work in Hemel was a perfect stepping-stone to coping with the challenges presented on real runs.
Hurtling down a red run I could hear Daniel’s obvious and clear instructions, that helped when panic settled in at the side of a steep verge.
It’s a process of learning a rhythm, becoming accustomed to the altering speeds and I’m fully aware that my ski skills are raw but I managed four successful days on the slopes without tears. Who could ask for more.
Down to the details back in Hemel Hempstead, there are beginner, family packages, refresher lessons and group sessions.
For example, group lessons on skis or snowboards start from £42 for 90 minutes with Apres Social sessions providing a relaxed alternative over two hours.
Here, you receive the same tutoring of the group lessons but also enjoy a refreshment in the Snow Centre’s Lodge bar afterwards.
Keen skiers can sign up for 10 weeks of group lessons which include video analysis, feedback, and Mountain Safety Training for £299.
Private lessons start at £99 per hour, however you can bring mates along for an additional £40 each.
I’m throwing figures at you, but it’s important to realise skiing isn’t an overwhelming cost. The Snow Centre can tailor lesson or lift pass packages to your needs, making sure there’s something for everyone.
So whether you miss the Alps or fancy carving out a new hobby on the closest snow to London, head to Hemel to escape to the slopes.