KATHERINE MacALISTER and family head off to Hemel Hempstead to discover the joys of indoor skiing

It was one of the most surreal days of my life. The sun was shining and everyone else was mowing their lawns, but while they turned their pale faces towards the sun and unearthed their barbecues, we packed ourselves into the car and hurtled off to Hemel Hempstead to go skiing.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, my last indoor ski experience consisting of being forced down a mountain made of doormats where it was hard to learn, hard to fall and even harder to watch.

I’d heard, of course, that things had moved on since the Dark Ages, but couldn’t believe enormous inroads could have been made into what is essentially an outdoor Alpine sport.

Peering around at the traffic lights as we reached Hemel Hemstead, which is only an hour away from Bicester, we wondered where we were supposed to be going, and then spotted this enormous structure on the skyline, like an encased mountain, and knew we’d found the right spot.

Only on pulling into the car park, however, did we realise there was nothing amateur about the Snow Centre. And with this realisation our excitement and anticipation grew.

We were a motley collection of skiiers, my youngest having never been, my boys being quite good, and us pretty well versed, but we had never skied all together. The Snow Centre saw this as a challenge, immediately booking the girls on to a private ski lesson, issuing us clothing vouchers for skis, boots, etc, and giving the rest of us ski passes.

And what seems to take an entire morning in the Alps was done in half an hour as we sat encased in full ski gear, raring to go.

By the time our hour’s slot arrived, we were ushered through the doors into a ski area that made me shriek with excitement. Because not only does it resemble a ski slope, but the snow is real too, and it was so unexpected to be encased in this winter wonderland, while the summer continued outside none the wiser, it only enhanced the experience.

The girls were dispatched with a very gentle and sympathetic instructor, Peter, to learn the ropes, and we took one of two button lifts to the top. The snow is great, made on site by the same snow machines you’d find on any mountain when the snow is rather scarce, and the temperature sticks at -3C so as not to melt.

At the top, with the walls covered with Alpine scenes, you forget you are actually in an industrial complex, so we did up our boots, peered over the edge of the slope and set off. It was that simple. There’s only one 160m piste, but it’s varied, and there’s a massive jump ramp should you feel the need, although the snowboarders tended to monopolise it.

Watching the nursery slopes on the other side we spied the girls screaming with laughter as they tried to manage the lifts, and you remember how exciting it is to learn. But if you’re going to start, here seems as good a place as any, and gives you a head-start if you ever manage to sum up the courage to try the real thing.

So rather than stick to winter, I’d say now is the ideal time to give skiing a go, or keep your hand in, especially as summer these days is a euphemism for a wet soggy landscape and day trips are the only way forward.

The Snow Centre has got my vote anyway because, as a form of family entertainment, it can’t be beaten.

The Snow Centre’s new Family Lesson Package offers two adults and two children a full hour of instruction in either skiing or snowboarding at £140 for all four. The deal includes a drink for everyone in The Edge CaféBar after your lesson.
There are packages to get mountain-ready quickly, including learn to ski or snowboard in a day, a six-hour course which will have you making controlled turns down the slope by the end, and includes lunch and refreshments, with prices starting from £111 per person.
For those with less time available there are three-hour accelerator lessons from £69 per person, available for beginners upwards. Lift passes can be taken for one-, two- or three-hour sessions and all day Monday-Friday and cost from £18 per hour. For more details of this and other special summer offers contact The Snow Centre on 0845 258 9000 or visit thesnowcentre.com