Dry ski slopes in the UK have begun to reopen as Britons look to holiday on home soil this summer
As the Boris Johnson announces new plans to ease the lockdown in England skiing and snowboarding at the country's dry slope and snow centres is back on the cards – with some facilities already open and plans for new developments afoot.
Plans have been revealed for a new state-of-the-art ski slope in Middlesbrough as skiers and snowboarders look set to use facilities on home soil in order to get their slope fix, while international travel remains off the cards.
The £30 million SubZero development will be built on a seven-acre site at Middlehaven dock in Middlesbrough – it will be the first of its kind in the North East.
There are plans for two ski slopes as part of the development, one for beginners and a 165m-long main slope – just 15m short of the UK’s longest at Chill Factore in Manchester. There’s also set to be an ice bar, indoor skydiving, bowling alley, trampoline park and climbing wall as well as shops and restaurants.
These new plans have provoked keen skiers and snowboarders to consider the role British slopes, whether they be indoor, dry slopes or those at Scotland’s five ski resorts, will play in the future of the nation’s passion for snow sports as the Covid-19 pandemic forces the world into a new normality.
The UK’s indoor snow centres and dry ski slopes could be the future backbone for thousands of Britons’ passion for the slopes, as trips abroad become less frequent, restricted or cancelled entirely next winter and society is forced to look closer to home for ways to spend their leisure time. With British beaches and beauty spots the top choices for the popular summer period, would-be holidaymakers may be surprised to find a flourishing winter-sport scene on their doorsteps too.
A number of dry outdoor ski slopes have already been able to reopen under new government guidance, however the future opening date of the country's indoor snow centres remains unclear. Centres, both indoor and outside, have to overcome operational and financial difficulties in order to reopen, but Tim Fawke, chief executive of Snowsport England, is confident people will return to the UK slope, with many looking to reopen in July.
"I know from all our clubs and members that they are all desperate to get back to the sport they love and be skiing and boarding. It is also a great opportunity for people to try snow sports, as they may not be able to go on there usually holiday," he said.
“I know everyone is going to be missing the slopes as the season was cut short this year and we still don’t know when we’ll be able to travel abroad. Mental wellbeing is hugely important during difficult times and we believe we have a role to play. Alongside gyms and many other fitness activities, we want to provide a safe space for guests to learn a new skill, enjoy snow play or take part in their favourite sport,” said Morwenna Angove CEO at Chill Factore in Manchester, home to the UK’s longest indoor real-snow slope.
While dry slopes can now reopen, indoor ski slopes are to be included in the final phase of the government’s five-stage plan to rebuild society after lockdown.
There’s a growing number of these centres across the UK. From The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead and Chill Factore in Manchester to Snozone in Milton Keynes and Castleford and SnowDome in Tamworth, as well as dry ski slopes, such as Snowtrax in Dorset and Ski Rossendale in Lancashire.
Indoor ski resorts and dry slopes have seen a dramatic rise in popularity in recent years across the globe. China, where the ski industry continues to grow exponentially every year, is now home to hundreds of futuresque indoor and artificial ski slopes, including the largest in the world at Harbin Wanda Indoor Ski and Winter Sports Resort, which opened in July 2017. Proving the bigger the better, plans to build America’s largest indoor slopes, on top of a landfill site, were revealed last year.
The new development in Middlesbrough, which was first revealed in 2014 and has a prospective opening date for 2023, is the latest in a number of proposals to expand facilities in the UK. In 2017 plans to build a 500m-long indoor slope in the heart of the Welsh countryside were approved by senior figures in the snow-sports community. A year later The Snow Centre announced it was expanding with a new £270-million centre in Swindon and in 2019 Edinburgh’s Hillend Ski Centre revealled a future multi-million-pound investment to transform its artificial slope.
While many will argue that these man-made facilities aren’t a match for the real thing in the mountains, the UK slopes do offer the possibility for skiing and snowboarding to be safely managed in a controlled environment, where restrictions on the number of people on the slope, hygiene standards and social distancing rules can be easily implemented.
Snow conditions can also be carefully maintained and elements such as slalom courses and terrain parks easier built to cater for all abilities. The flexibility of UK facilitites makes them a popular training ground for the UK's leading snow-sport athletes, with many members of Team GB in regular attendance during the summer months.
Despite uncertainty about when they will all be able to reopen their doors the centres are positive about the future. “It’s fair to say that our plans are constantly changing as we find out more about how we may be able to operate, but we feel confident that we will be able to offer a safe environment for our team and guests to enjoy snow sports when the time is right,” said Zoe Green from the Snow Centre, just 20-minutes train journey out of London.
With last winter’s ski season cut short due to the virus many will be keen to hit the slopes again as they spend weekends and holiday time on home soil. “Through our online communities, we are finding our guests are really keen to return, not just to start skiing and snowboarding again, but to meet up with like minded people they regularly see at Snozone,” said Elena Kale on behalf of Snozone, which has two centres in Milton Keynes and Castleford.
Those reluctant to be confined to the indoors when skiing may find future solace in the Highlands. Scotland is home to five ski resorts, Glenshee, Nevis Range, CairnGorm Mountain, Glencoe Mountain and the Lecht, which The Telegraph has found offer a viable alternative to the Alps, despite a turbulent history and less-than-reliable weather patterns in recent years.
In the future Covid-19 world, when people look for off-the-beaten track trips to the slopes and traditional ski holidays look likely to have to adapt both costs and services, previous concerns over small ski areas, lack of accommodation facilities and limited lift capacity at Scotland’s resorts may be the exact reasons that encourage visitors north.
See a full list of dry ski slopes and indoor snow centres, including those that are open, on the Snowsport England website here.