It’s skiing Jim, but not as we know it! Skiplex, Woodley
I am more than a little peeved. My two children have just had Level 5 ticked on their Ski Progress Record by Joe the instructor at Skiplex in Woodley. He takes a sidelong glance at me, then ticks Level 4 on mine. It’s all I can do not to have a John McEnroe moment – chuck down my skis and scream, ‘You cannot be serious?!’ My seven and nine year old now officially ski better than me. They can kiss goodbye to screen time tonight.
I suppose I should be pleased for them (moi? Competitive?). I only learnt to ski in my thirties when I met my husband. Unless you count a couple of family holidays to Flaine in the 70s when skis were still made of wood and all the photos of me ‘skiing’ are actually me being dragged around the resort on a sled by my older sister. I’m not sure I actually did any skiing per se (but looking at my butterball physique I clearly tucked into the fondue).
But the mudlets are lucky to have skied since they were about four, and as a result they have zero fear on any kind of slope. Turns out, not even on an artificial white moving carpet type slope, that speeds up and slows down at the touch of a button. Welcome to the future of skiing folks! And in the same way my children picked up an iPad for the first time and intuitively started swiping – ditto when they stepped onto the magic carpet. Within five minutes they were off!
If like me, you’d heard of Skiplex but had your doubts then schuss this way and I’ll fill you in. I know exactly what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same. But it’s in a warehouse? It’s a moving carpet, whaaaa? I don’t get it? Let’s just bomb up the M40 to Milton Keynes…
Yes, it is in a warehouse (it’s impossible to make it look more glamorous) on an industrial estate (it gets better) in Woodley, just east of Reading. But I was pleasantly surprised when we walked in. It’s a small but perfectly formed set up. Essentially it’s a giant treadmill about the size of a squash court that you can ski on. There are two slopes actually, side by side. One is normally set lower for beginners and the other angled a little higher for smug people – though the slope, speed etc. can be altered by the instructors with a remote control, which they hold in their hand for the duration, worryingly. Luckily my children’s menacing request of, ‘Can we hold it during Mummy and Daddy’s lesson?’ was denied.
Opposite the slopes behind some viewing glass is the observation/seating area for chilling out between sessions and for long-suffering non-skiers to sit and watch. Obviously, you’re in a warehouse so wrap up accordingly, I kept my coat on for the duration, especially if you’re a non-skier sitting around for an hour. But I found the seating area quite cosy and it was definitely a darn sight warmer than an artificial snow dome. You won’t need gloves, salopettes etc. to ski either, our kids just wore joggers, jumpers and a coat.
There’s also a small – café is a bit of a stretch – but there’s a hot drinks machine which actually makes a decent cup of coffee and an excellent hot chocolate, and they sell muffins, chocolate bars, crisps etc. There are plenty of sofas and it’s all decked out to look like an alpine chalet, complete with skiing posters and animal skin rugs. No vin chaud but surely it’s just a matter of time?
On arrival you’re kitted out with everything you need (all the equipment is provided, you just need to take a pair of long thick socks) including boots, helmets and skis. You have to use their skis as they’ve been specially prepared for use on the astro surface but you can bring your own boots if you want.
The maximum number of skiers on the slope at the same time is three, so because of this low skier to instructor ratio it’s like having a personal ski coach. We split into two pairs and let the children have 15 minutes first, then we took a turn, so we all got half an hour’s skiing in total.
We had two coaches – Chris took us for the first half an hour, then we had Joe for the second half. Both of them were absolutely brilliant giving calm, measured instructions, keeping things very relaxed, and they both had heaps of patience. Joe in particular was great with the children – cracking jokes, chucking beach balls at them, running around them on the slope like a nutter and setting them all sorts of fun challenges – they loved him! If he ever did want a new career as a Manny he knows who to call.
You clip on your skis while standing on the slope (not moving) and there’s a safety bar at the front you can hold onto. Then once you’re ready the instructor will press the button and start the slope moving. It does take a little getting used to. I found it quite dizzying – but then I’m the girl that falls backwards off the treadmill at the gym. By the end of the session I had just about got used to the feeling and cracked it. Mr P and the kids were much faster than me and after 10 minutes or so they had got used to the sensation and were just skiing normally. When you’re ready you let go of the bar, snowplough to let yourself be carried back up the slope a little way, then start skiing normally. I found I improved when I stopped looking down and tried to forget the floor was moving!
As we had all skied before, we were put through our paces quite quickly so we moved from snow plough to traversing the slope within about 15 minutes. The surface of the slope is basically dense artificial grass lubricated with water – Joe watered the lawn a couple of times as you can see above. It is much less forgiving than snow as there is no ‘give’ whatsoever from the hard flat surface, so your technique has to be spot on. There is less chance of you picking up bad habits, and you can constantly monitor and tweak your body position etc. in the mirror facing you (ah did I forget to mention the socking great mirror – don’t worry you won’t have time to worry about what a ninny you look in your helmet).
I bumped into a friend with her husband and two daughters while we were there and as her girls were beginners I asked what they thought of the experience. She said they really enjoyed it and it was great for them to get the feel of wearing boots and skis, doing a basic snow plough and body positioning. She also found the instructors really fun, kind and helpful. They weren’t pushy and didn’t rush the children.
As the hour went on I was slowly ticking off the advantages. No need for any serious ski clothing, none of the usual stop/start of snow domes or artificial slopes – you don’t waste time waiting for ski lifts, trudging up and down the slope or stopping part way down for a briefing from the instructor. You literally ski continually the entire time (so it is quite knackering!) with constant input from the instructors who are standing just feet away from you. Being able to see yourself in the mirror (when I finally looked up from my feet) was actually very handy for seeing where I was going wrong with my technique.
So what’s it like when you fall? Well, I did – twice – but it was fine. Obviously as you’re on a moving surface, if you snow plough for too long and stay still you will eventually get carried backwards to the end of the moving slope. And this is occasionally what I did, and fell backwards on my bum. I just found my mind went blank now and again forgetting that to move forward you just have to point your skis straight down the slope – but then that’s exactly what you do on real snow, so it shouldn’t be too hard a stretch (I’m just a bit slow). But the instructors simply stop the ‘treadmill’ when there are any incidents so the risk is minimal.
Prices are reasonable given you are getting private coaching and a full session of pure skiing. Our ‘Family Time’ session costs £163 peak and £147 off peak for one hour. I compared this with an equivalent private lesson in a local snow dome and it cost nearly £300 for an hour’s tuition for a family of four. There are lots of other options including ‘Discover Skiplex’ which is just £20 for half an hour on-slope time. They do birthday parties too – makes a change from a magician in the village hall. And your gnarly teenager will be glad to hear you can also snowboard. There are also packages of three, six and ten sessions which brings the cost down. Details of all the prices and packages are here.
I definitely give Skiplex the Muddy stamp of approval and personally won’t be bothering to schlep up the motorway next time we need some practice. I will however be having a word with Joe about that Level 4 decision…
Now off you go and SCHUSS!
Skiplex, Unit 3a, Headley Park 10, Headley Road East, Woodley, Reading, RG5 4SW. Tel: 0330 363 0033. There are also Skiplex centres in Basingstoke and Chiswick. www.skiplex.co.uk