Ellie Hargreaves learns to ski at Manchester’s Chill Factore
PUBLISHED: 13:00 03 February 2014 | UPDATED: 13:06 24 October 2018
Do you freeze on skis and struggle to maintain as much dignity as a woman in a bobble hat can muster? Then slope off with Ellie Hargreaves
It’s safe to say that when I went on a snowboarding holiday eight years ago, it didn’t go to plan.
Sixteen friends were renting a chalet in Val Thorens and, having bought myself some rather smart pants and a hat with a bobble the size of a football, I was convinced I was going to look very cool on the slopes.
What I hadn’t considered was the fact I have the coordination of a newborn foal. And, with both my feet strapped to what was effectively a highly polished – and therefore lethal - ironing board, the week went horribly wrong.
There were tears. There were bruises. There was a rather cross French instructor. And so I quit after two days only to spend the rest of the holiday drowning my sorrows in overpriced spirits while the rest of the group bonded over red runs and frontside 180s.
The highlight was boarding the plane home and I was never, ever going again.
Until, that is, shortly before Christmas I spent an evening indulging in what commonly makes up the après element of a ski holiday and agreed to spend a week in Austria, with a different group of friends – half of whom are both experienced and good.
‘This time round it’ll be different,’ they encouraged, as I happily tapped my credit card details into the computer. Once sober – and fully aware that I’d paid a hefty deposit – I began to regret my decision.
At the first sign of a cold snap I hibernate because one glimpse of snow and even the mildest incline invariably sees me on my backside. And so it was with this thought in mind that I arrived, wearing several layers of padding, at Manchester’s Chill Factore – the UK’s longest indoor ski slope.
Since it opened in 2007, more than three million have found their balance on the 5mm covering of real snow on Chill Factore’s 180 metre hill. Although aged only 20, Liam Croft has taught around 8,000 of them since qualifying as an instructor four years ago. Of these, he insists only two weren’t cut out for it. ‘One was a boxer – a big lad – who didn’t have the movement in his hips because of the way he was built and the other was a lady who could barely stand up. You’ll be fine,’ he says.
As well as being the ideal place for a beginner to learn the ropes before a holiday, Chill Factore is the place to go out-of-season for skiers and boarders who want to keep their hand in or hone skills.
As it towers from 45metres, you’re not allowed on the main slope unless you’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency but there are lessons to cater for everyone – including taster sessions through to advanced freestyle freeski coaching. I opted for an ‘intense but fun’ day-long beginner course – which costs from £165 and includes six hours of tuition, refreshment breaks and lunch.
While private lessons are available, the day course is for groups of up to ten people and I found myself with half a dozen other newcomers that ranged from a young couple in their 20s to a gentleman in his 60s.
The lesson starts with the basics – getting the skis on and off your feet and learning to walk, while wearing them, on a flat surface. I should point out at this stage that this – and the rest of the drills – sounds infinitely simpler than it is.
From there Liam showed us how to manoeuvre uphill, without sliding to the bottom, and by the time an hour had passed we’d got snow ploughs under our belts and were practicing descents from the lower part of the nursery slope.
Things were going great. Liam was great. The group was great. Even I was showing signs of potential greatness.
We moved higher up the slope and repeated the same, controlled, downhill descents with only a couple of the group falling or going off-course.
By lunchtime we were riding the travelator lift to the top of the nursery slope and building up some decent speed on the way back down. I. Was. Skiing. And, to my own amazement, loving it too.
And then Lancashire Life’s fabulous photographer Kirsty turned up. If this was a song, there’d be a key change here to indicate that this is where it all goes wrong.
Being the gracious colleague that I am, I agreed to step aside from the group and smile attractively for the camera while Kirsty captured the shots she’d been sent for. Or in theory, at least.
An hour later – and having fallen for the first time at Kirsty’s request - we still hadn’t secured a shot in which my face wasn’t showing a look of either frozen terror or unflattering concentration.
In the time I was apart from the group they’d learned not only how to turn, but to do link turns. And they were all clearly gagging to get on the main slope.
I won’t go into the details of what happened from here as, in a vain attempt to preserve some dignity, my memory appears to have been wiped out. In much the same way that three snowboarders were when I later strayed into their path.
By comparison, though, by the end of the day the rest of the group were confident and even hooked – including those few who’d struggled more than me in the morning.
I’d like to think that with a little more après and a little less ski, I’ll be hooked too.
Planning your own ski trip? Although mentally and physically tiring for a beginner, Liam (and Ellie) recommends the full-day beginner lesson as it’s the quickest way to learn before a holiday. Book online via www.chillfactore.com, via telephone (0843 5962233) or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.