It’s not too long now before the winter ski and snowboard season is due to really kick off – there’s already plenty of people posting pictures of themselves skiing on Europe’s open glaciated ski areas and as temperatures drop and the enthusiasts start to get more and more jittery and desperate from some on-snow action.
But what if heading to the Alps is just a little too much for most of us to handle? Especially with a family in tow.
The alternative – a weekend away in Manchester that combines some skiing with a bit of city break culture too. That’s just what Rob Stewart, Snow.Guide’s ski editor, did recently with his wife and daughter as they headed up the M6 to Chill Factore, the UK’s longest indoor snow facility.
We’d last skied as a family during the Easter school holidays in the resort of Champoluc, Italy. We’d had a great time and Amelie (then 6 years old, now 7) had improved significantly as a skier and could tackle pretty much the whole mountain – but we always seem to leave huge gaps in between her skiing….like a whole year. So I thought, let’s combine a weekend away with some skiing indoors here in the UK.
The cool thing about Chill Factore is that you can’t miss it on the approach – “WOW” said Amelie, “is that where we are skiing”? It was pretty obvious, like a mini indoor mountain protruding from the Trafford retail metropolis on the outskirts of Manchester close to Salford.
It’s an impressive set up – you’re greeted by a huge Evans cycle shop, a double story Snow & Rock store, café’s, restaurants and even a Crystal Holidays centre where you can get advice on a ski holiday. There’s a large climbing wall in the centre too, but we didn’t have much time for that.
After a quick Pizza in the aptly names Pizza Dalla Piste – friendly service, quick pizza, and according to Amelie, just like the ones you get in Italy. I wasn’t totally convinced about the last part, but who cares when the little one is happy?
We’d booked a ski lesson for an hour and we changed and waited for our instructor, who was called Michael – with three very different ability levels, it seemed like a good idea to palm Amelie off and spend some time with just the two of us skiing. Perhaps it’s not quite as romantic as the Italian Alps, but even so, we had fun going up and down together, as you do.
The Brits (British Freestyle Championships) happened to be taking place at the same time and although half the slope was closed off for the competition, it was great to see the kids (which most of them are) hitting the rails and kickers and spinning and twisting in the air, like only teenagers can. Even with half the slope closed, there seemed to be plenty of space to ski. One thing that really impressed me was the quality of the snow. I’m really very fussy when it comes to skis and I had to use the standard hire model at the centre (which were actually fine after I got over my initial panic)….but even with what’s a basic recreational piste ski, I found the snow grippy, smooth and fast enough to make both long and short radius turns. The snow didn’t seem to get chopped up either – I think they keep the temperature really low in there, sounds obvious but it felt colder than in some centres and it’s just a theory but perhaps this keeps the snow in good condition.
The slope divided in half for The Brits freestyle competition
I dipped in and out of Amelie’s ski lessons with Michael – the last time we skied at Easter, Amelie was on the cusp of performing parallel turns, not always easy for a small 6 year old. It looked like after over 5 weeks of skiing on snow, she was suddenly cracking it here. I think the slope and environment of an indoor centre does install confidence, it certainly feels safe and enclosed – that and the consistently of a slope like this compared to some you might encounter in the mountains, with lumps and bumps and variable terrain. Of course, you need that too (personally I think ski runs have become far too ‘sanitised’ for our own goods, but that’s another article!), but here you can practice in what Ski Guru Phil Smith would call a ‘closed environment’ – rather like a swimming pool or a running track. This is great for practising technique because you know what you’re going to get.
Mini Snow.Guide on her ski lesson
We finished off in the bar upstairs watching the Brits ski finals as I looked many years back at my days as a freestyle racer (we didn’t have parks back then) and possibly Amelie looked forward to the chance to emanate the young skiers spinning upside down in the future.
The Brits competitors warming up
That evening we explored Salford Keys, a newly developed area close by to Chill Factore that now houses the BBC and the following morning we paid a visit to the Lowry Museum, exhibiting the famous paintings by local artist L.S Lowry who was best known for his ‘Matchstick Men and matchstick Cats and Dogs’ and local scenes depicting normal working people’s lives in the first half of the 20th Century. After that, we indulged in some mass consumerism in the Trafford Centre, one of Britain’s largest shopping complexes and a true bastion to capitalism – despite the sheer ostentatiousness and scale of the place, we actually had quite a bit of fun.
Main slope ski passes – prices shown are for one hour sessions and include equipment hire:
Adult, from £21 off-peak and £27 peak
Junior, from £15 off-peak and £21 peak
Senior, from £15 off-peak and £21 peak
Private lessons start at £100 / hour for 1 adult with a group private lesson costing from £220 for 4 adults.
Group lessons for all levels of skier and snowboarder are available.
Specialist and adaptive coaching is also available.
www.chillfactore.com, 0161 749 2222, firstname.lastname@example.org.