Snozone at Xscape, Milton Keynes
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Review of "Snozone at Xscape, Milton Keynes"
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25 years ago, indoor snow slopes were unheard of. What you could do was go to a dry ski slope (they are still about) where you could do something like ski-ing on dry matting which was unpleasant if you fell on. However, slowly indoor slopes with ‘real’ now started to appear with the Snozones in Milton Keynes and Castleford being amongst the first.Over the years I have spent a lot of time at the Snozone in Milton Keynes and after a trip there this week, I thought it time to write about my experience.
~~~ Finding it ~~~So first things first, where is it? The Snozone is in the Xscape Centre in the centre of Milton Keynes. Because it has to accommodate the ski slope, Xscape has a distinctive shape and you can see it from afar. As well as hosting the Snozone, there is a cinema, lots of shops (many of them snow sports related), restaurants, bowling alley, climbing wall and next door to the main building there is now an indoor skydiving centre.
Getting there is pretty straightforward but as always in Milton Keynes, there are lots (and I mean lots!) of roundabouts to circumnavigate. If approaching Milton Keynes from the MA (leaving via Junction 14) you need to take the A509 towards Central Milton Keynes. Xscape is well signposted (look for the brown signs of a downhill skier) and after 6 or 7 roundabouts, you will find yourself near the entrance. Although there is a large car park, getting a slot can be quite difficult at peak times – I’ve been there at the weekend and found cars circling the car park to find a space. There is also quite a complicated system in the car park as it is split into two different sections – the outer section is Council owned (slightly further away but cheaper) while the inner section is privately run and more expensive. The sections are colour coded and you do need to check that you are using the right machine for the section you’re your car is in. I try to park in the purple bays at 50p an hour.Xscape is 5 minutes from Milton Keynes Central Station and there are buses that will get you there.
~~~ Indoor snow slopes ~~~
According to the Ski Club of Great Britain, there are now six indoor snow slopes which produce ‘real’ snow, much like snow is sometimes produced on real ski slopes by ski cannons to supplement the other ‘real’ snow that falls from the sky.
Snozone offers indoor snow facilities for skiing and snowboarding, as well as tubing and sledging.
~~~ Prices and opening hours ~~~
There are a range of prices depending on season, timing, activity and whether or not you want a lesson. Anyone wishing to use the main slope unsupervised must be able to meet othe minimum main slope standard. Whether a skier, or a snowboarder, this means being able to use a button lift, do link turns and to control your speed. If not you have to book a lesson with a Snozone coach.There are so many options, that anyone interested in taking lessons or doing any of the activities at Snozone should check out the website. But to give you an idea a single day beginner course for an adult will cost £179. For this, you get up to 8 hours of instruction aiming to get the learner skiing or snowboarding downhill before the end of the day.
When I go to Snozone, I just want a slope pass. These range from an hour on the slopes to a full day. Again prices vary with weekends and evenings being more expensive than daytime. During the summer season, the prices are further reduced so this week I paid £17.80 for an hour, a significant reduction on the normal off-peak price of £22.99. Junior tickets are obviously less but an outing to the Snozone isn’t cheap.In peak season (October to April) the slopes are open from 9am until 11pm Monday- Friday and 8am-11pm Saturday and Sunday. From May to September the hours are a bit shorter - 10am until 10pm Monday to Wednesday, Thursday & Friday 10am until 11pm and Saturday & Sunday 9am until 10pm. It is worth checking before turning up though as at some times, there may be private parties going on or the slope may be closed for grooming.
~~~ Getting kitted out ~~~No surprise - it is real snow and so the slope is cold and you need to dress accordingly. If you don’t have ski or snowboarding gear, you can hire a jacket and salopettes for £9.99 per person. You definitely need gloves and good socks – these can be bought on site but can’t be hired. There are changing rooms and lockers.
All of your ski or snowboard equipment (boots, helmet, skis, board and poles) are included in the ticket price. There is no difference in price if you bring your own equipment.
~~~ On the slopes ~~~Once you’re kitted out, you’re ready to hit the slope. The main slope is 170m long and at each side has a button lift that takes you up to the top. There is a shorter slope to the right hand side with its own conveyor type lift where most of the lessons take place. Sneaky pics - Unfortunately you aren’t supposed to take photographs or film on the slope. However, it was so quiet on the day that I was there, I didn’t think I was in danger of invading anyone’s privacy and so I took a couple of the slopes – one from the bottom looking up and one from the top looking down.
The main slope is divided into two sections – you can ski both but the one on the left has a number of rails and the lower part is sometimes cordoned off for children’s sledging parties. There are attendants at the bottom of the lift, and there is always someone watching out right at the top. Occasionally the lift has to be stopped if someone takes a tumble and it’s good to know that help is on hand should one get into difficulty.
~~~ How does it compare to the real ‘real’ snow? ~~~Well it gives you a flavour of what skiing and snowboarding is all about. Rather like the real slopes, the snow conditions at Snozone vary. If you go after the slope has been freshly groomed, then the snow is good; at other times it can be a little churned up and icy. The first time you take a ride to the top, the slope may look a little steep but actually it’s a good training ground.And talking of training, indoor slopes have really helped to raise UK’s game in terms of freestyle skiing and snowboarding not to forget the downhill disciplines too. You may remember that this winter David Ryding who started his skiing on the dry slopes at Pendle finished second in the slalom in Kitzbühel, Austria, Britain’s best result in World Cup alpine skiing for 35 years.
The reason why I am so familiar with the Snozone was that as a teenager my son was part of the MK Race Team. The Race Team is open to all ages from six years through to adults although you do have to test out for the team. As a proud mother, I was convinced that the Race Team would jump at the chance of having my obviously very talented offspring join the team. When it came to his trial, he was told that he skied like an old fashioned ski instructor! He made the team however and then had to learn a very different technique and style for racing. The club train in groups according to age and try to maintain a maximum number of eight trainees per group. It’s really quite impressive seeing these kids come down a slalom course backwards and on one ski! There is a race series that the youngsters can compete in and for those who are really serious about it, training camps and competitions abroad.Snozone are also the only UK indoor ski and snowboard centre to have their own snow school for children and adults with a range of physical challenges and disabilities. They have a range of equipment including sit skis which can be skied with assistance or independently and qualified coaches for adaptive skiing.
~~~ Apres Ski ~~~Xscape has lots of places to eat including KFC, Nandos, La Tasca and Pizza Express. Really something to suit all tastes. The Snozone itself has a pretty decent café serving pasta dishes, hot drinks etc and I’ve spent many an evening working on my laptop with a hot drink and pastry while Mr P junior did his race training. There is a large seating area which looks out on to the slopes so you can see what’s going on. There is also Snobar above the main café area which runs special events - Open Mic Nights and the like.
~~~ Overall ~~~There is a lot going on at Snozone and it’s a great place to get a feeling for skiing and boarding. For anyone thinking of going on their first ski holiday, I would suggest a couple of lessons at the Snozone. It will get you used to putting on all the gear (ski boots are not the most comfortable foot attire!) and will mean that you will arrive in resort knowing what to expect and with a little snow time under your belt. For more experienced skiers and boarders, the slope may seem a little tame but there are freestyle nights where you can try out the rails etc and I always like to go at least once before heading off to the Alps to get those ‘ski legs’ back.
So my tips are, go at off peak times if you possibly can, dress up warm and, most importantly, enjoy!~~~
Xscape MK, 602 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3XS
Product Information : Snozone at Xscape, Milton Keynes
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Listed on Ciao since: 04/09/2002