Lots of things came together that created a great atmosphere over the four days of the event that just made it work – everyone else seemed to be having a good time so it was hard not to.
Changes had been made since the initial Battersea Park show in 2015. The venue last year already offered the visitor a much better experience than the last few years had at Earls Court and Olympia.
But the organisers had dumped the live music stage this year (which people didn’t seem to notice or care too much about) and replaced the area with more stands and an ice rink, together with the big air jump that managed to hold its snow (just) for the duration.
Last year numbers were down – around 25,000 visitors over four days, but this year things just looked busier, especially on the Friday and Saturday, and they were with a figure of at least 30,000 people attending. The show had a buzz, whether you went outside and saw the crowds enjoying the British athletes show off in the air, or inside where the previous upstairs VIP area had been opened up to all (good move) and even through the hall, where on Saturday you literally couldn’t get through some of the aisles.
One complaint from some visitors was a lack of retail was preventing them from buying ski hardware or apparel. Snow + Rock had one of the larger stands in the hall but they weren’t actually selling anything from it, although the effort they put in with all the staff they had (and these are staff members of many years with lots of knowledge) meant that you could genially get some great advice on kit before going away and making a decision. Is that such a bad thing?
Anyone desperate to carry their kit out of the show could have gone to Finches or Decathlon, both doing brisk business – at times you couldn’t get on to their stands.
Ironically for year’s people have complained that they are buying a ticket to what’s essentially a shop and now there’s tons of entertainment on, they are complaining there’s not much to buy.
Niche brands such as the SkiA Ski Trainer and ski-mojo benefited from the increased numbers. Martin Hannaford from ski-mojo, a device that helps skiers stay on the slopes longer, said:
“we’ve had the best show in years and that could be to do with our brand awareness growing in general, but I’d say it’s definitely down to the increased numbers and quality of people here, meaning genuine skiers”.
SkiA Ski Trainer continued to get people on their blocks and practising before the winter starts.
Thursday is known, unofficially, as press day and there were plenty of events for us to get stuck into and not all of them involved swishing Champagne. IGLU ski kicked off the show with their breakfast event launching their new website, even before the doors had opened to the public.
After a talk that yours truly was hosting a talk on the Mountain Talks Stage about Getting into Off-Piste and Backcountry Skiing with Richard Barker from Kicking Horse Powder Tours and Emily Sarsfield, GB skier – we had healthy crowds through the week and clearly there’s a real interest from the public in what getting off the beaten track really means.
Later on in the evening, the traditional 3 Valley’s party didn’t take place this year, so the Mason’s Arms around the corner had to do, but it felt like the old days at the ski show – the whole industry in one pub having fun and talking rubbish about skiing or snowboarding.
Back to work the next day and it was time to see how the tour operators were doing. Action Outdoors were back after a gap of a couple of years and the company offering good value holidays and courses across the French Alps in the UCPA centres seemed to be having a successful show. Managing Director David Robertson said:
“Yeah the shows been pretty good so far, probably better than we expected to be honest. We offer something pretty unique so people seem genuinely interested in hearing about what we do”.
Friday was family day for us and my daughter (Amelie, 7 years of age) found plenty to get stuck into. Perhaps the exhibitors weren’t so interesting, but the activities in the ‘Kids Zone’ right at the back of the hall provided a real selection of activities including role playing games, kids golf and electronic drums – she missed out on the ice skating but the chance to see some of the athletes in action would have been a highlight, except for I knew Eddie the Eagle was hiding out on the Tirol stand. I introduced Amelie to Eddie and she was instantly star struck, having heard so much about him recently. It made her day.
Later on Eddie signed autographs outside the show with Kicking Horse Powder Tours who are running a trip this winter to Canada where you can ski with the man himself.
I even bumped into an impostor and nearly got fooled (well, so some might have you believe).
So is the ski & snowboard show really back in its rightful place as the number one winter sports event in the UK? Well, I don’t think it ever lost that place but there was a feeling that things were just struggling to justify all the effort – that, in 2016 seems to have turned around and exhibitors and visitors alike came away feeling ready to take on the new winter.
Brexit? Heard no mention of it and let’s be honest, any true skier or snowboarder hasn’t ever been concerned about the cost before, so why start now – you’d do anything to get yourself on the slopes….why would you even look at the exchange rate?
As we go into mid-November there’s even early signs of large snowfalls in the Alps and North America, dismissing any thoughts we had of a third dry December in the European mountains.
It looks like despite all the negativity, the 2016-17 winter season will be a vintage one and it all kicked off in Battersea Park, just like it should.