Snozone at Xscape

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During my working life I had thirty years of full-on action in the police service, so my career memory banks are full to overflowing, with many tales to tell.

My philosophy in life is to try anything new to me as long as it's legal and non-fatal, whilst taking a few well thought out risks along the way.

Life is too short not to take some risks and I am always open to experiences I haven't had before. Whilst I am in good health and have fitness, despite some creaks, tweaks and groans, I like to do things whilst I can, before the inevitability of old age creeps up on me with nothing much exciting on the leisure side of my memory banks to fall back on.

With this in mind, I have had hair-raising and memorable exploits whilst climbing, caving, completing a via ferrata, abseiling, mountain-biking, zip-wiring, walking the high hills in winter, camping out overnight in extreme conditions, panning for gold, competitive sailing, flying light aircraft, driving supercars on track days, kayaking, zip and jet-boating, tall ship sailing, snorkelling, surfing, shark fishing, clay pigeon shooting and other adrenaline inducing activities.

During my childhood and youth, one sport which never really grabbed my attention was skiing. None of my contemporaries did it, nor was it commonplace to go on ski holidays as people do today. I often wondered whether I could actually do it at all.

I had always fancied a go however, and when skiing came up as a topic of conversation around the Christmas dinner table, my grown up children, bless them, took note.

On Father's Day this year, I opened an envelope from them and in it was a voucher for a ski lesson at our local Snozone centre at the Xscape complex.

I need wonder no more.

Facts and figures first, to give you an idea of the scale of the complex:

Xscape is an entertainment centre, built in 2003 at a cost of £56m. The site is at Junction 32 of the M62 motorway near Castleford in West Yorkshire. It covers 430,000 sq.ft,, an area equivalent to six football pitches, and rears up to the high point of the ski-slope at 38 metres. It contains a multitude of entertainment options including; 4D and Adventure golf, bowling, 2 climbing walls, Flow-house indoor surfing, Lazer Zone, a skate park, a Skyride ariel assault course, an XD 6D motion ride, a gym and a soft play area.

There are 17 bars and restaurants with most of the high street chains represented, so you will not go hungry or thirsty, nor be short of choices. The complex contains 10 other retail outlets, many of them related to outdoor pursuits, as well as a Cineworld multiplex with an IMAX screen. Snozone, the major attraction, is the country's biggest real snow slope at 170 metres. It has 1,700 tons of real snow, 2 poma ski lifts and an additional large lesson slope for both skiiers and snowboarders. Sledgers and ice-sliders are also catered for.

There is a sister operation in Milton Keynes.

So, impressive then, and it was with no little anxiety that I presented myself at the reception desk. Having had the procedures outlined to me, I wandered off to the changing area and donned my winter gear of salopettes, waterproof top, thick socks and winter gloves. The centre have all of this gear for hire or sale, so no excuses.

Good gear is vital as the air temperature inside the slope hall is -5 degrees C.

The session includes boot, ski and helmet hire, all of which were professionally fitted for me. A short time later the instructress made herself known and in no time at all our intrepid band of first timers were at the foot of the nursery slope.

Our ages ranged from teens to 70's, we were all in this together.

I defy anyone not to say 'wow' when they see the size of the main snow slope.

Safety procedures were quickly sorted and the first lesson was how to carry skis safely without whacking anyone around the head. The intricacies of fitting the boots securely into the skis and out again were soon mastered.

Then we were off, in a line of ungainly penguins, shuffling forward until we could at least move forwards on a straight and flat surface. Edging sideways up the slope without slipping down again came next and it was soon time for that first downhill run.

Very slowly and gingerly initially, as we learned to 'snowplough' and stop. Then, it was higher and higher up the slope, skiing freely down the admittedly not too steep slope, but feeling exhilarated as we mastered the basics despite a few gentle and graceful falls (not me, of course – yet).

The one and a half hour introductory lesson was very professional, with an easy going and delightful instructor who got us all through the session. We had plenty of laughs and a bit of excitement as we realised what we could achieve by watching the skilled youngsters flying down the imposing main slope in front of us.

We then had our 'ski-passports' stamped, as it is only after having mastered four introductory lessons that you are allowed unsupervised on the main slope, for safety reasons.

Having been enthused, I booked my three remaining introductory lessons on three consecutive days for the following week.

Lesson two saw a quick revision and then snowploughing down the nursery slope with the introduction of cones to curve around, ever more deviously placed. Halfway through the lesson, my fellow learners and I were surprised to find that we were to be introduced to the main slope. A quick demonstration of the poma continuous lift and away we went, up the side of the main slope to the halfway point.

Any thoughts of Franz Klammer style speeding downhill was dispensed with as we continued to master snowploughing and turning at relatively slow speeds to the foot of the slope. Our techniques were analysed and improved as we went over and over the same procedures. Safety always came first and further progress was made along the learning curve.

I was amazed at how much progress we had made in just two lessons.

My third session once again started with a refresher of basic moves before taking to the main slope from halfway. This time, we snowploughed in 'S' shapes and created faster, sharper turns time and again.

Nearing the end of my supervised training, my fourth and final lesson saw a group filled with trepidation, looking down the very long slope from the top. The top half of the slope is steeper than the lower half and it looked VERY steep and VERY long at this particular moment. Seizing the moment and under the watchful eye of the instructor I poked my skis over the edge and was away, a little wide-eyed I have to say. A few turns later, slaloming at speed down the snow, I got some confidence and made it to bottom with a huge sigh of relief.

I did take a tumble on the third run, but only pride was hurt. We were allowed to make our own runs from then on, with the instructor taking a keen interest in our progress.

I can ski !

So, I am now free to roam and terrorise the main slope from the very top, something I thought would not be possible after only four intensive lessons. All of the instructors have been patient and enthusiastic and have taught us well.

Competence comes with experience and there is much more is left to learn and master, but I have a feel for it now and another new experience ticked off the 'bucket list'.

Fabled resorts like Innsbruck, Val d'Isere and Courchevel are already calling me, I just hope my knees hold out. I only wish I had done it years ago.

Go on, give it a go, after all it's a slippery downhill slope from here!

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