In the northern hemisphere, snowboarding in the middle of August may sound like an usual thing for most people, but, strangely enough, I’ve had a few experiences over the course of the last few years – most notably, my trips to Mt. Hood, near Portland, Oregon, to play on its Palmer Glacier in the middle of the summer (here are some pictures I took at Mount Hood in the summer, if you’ve never seen the glacier before).
[Above: A pic I snapped of a friend hitting a quickly-made kicker on the fringe of the Palmer Glacier in August 2003. The exposed, volcanic summer soil of Mt. Hood can be seen in the background. As a side note, the photo used on the top banner of this blog was also take at Mt. Hood.]
This year, however, I had an usual experience when I decided to take the short train ride from central London to Milton Keynes, the bizarre, planned city about 45 miles northwest of the city center. Other than being a very atypically British city, Milton Keynes is probably best known as the home to Xscape, a massive entertainment complex, which includes an indoor ski slope using man-made snow.
The Brits are known for having a number of dry slopes scattered throughout the country and, I must say, they serve their purpose for die-hard skiers and boarders who wish to work their legs out in such a snow-deprived nation. The proliferation of newer-generation dry slope materials, such as Snowflex, has made the experience even better.
But nothing beats real snow and strapping into your board in the middle of August is a great experience, regardless of how little vertical you have to work with. For about USD $90 (yes, the exchange rate still sucks), you get a two-hour lift ticket, ski jacket & pants, and full equipment rental. (Note: For sanitary reasons, they don’t rent gloves, although you can purchase them there).
Here are some scenes from Xcape:
[Above: Looking up the center slope. Rope tows are on, both, the right and left sides.]
[Above: Looking down the center slope. The beginner’s rope tow is on the left.]
[Above: Looking down the (skier’s) right slope. Rope tow is on the right.]
Overall, the experience was great. Two hours on the man-made snow really gets your legs working. I can see this being a good preparation for a holiday down in the Alps just to get those hidden boarding muscles worked out.
The length of the slope is small and there is very little steepness to the slope. It certainly does not present a challenge to any level of experienced boarder or skier. However, the point here isn’t to replicate a double-black diamond. If you’re just learning to ski, I think this facility will serve anyone quite well.
There are a number of indoor snowdomes scattered throughout the world now and, Milton Keynes, isn’t the largest (that title goes to a complex in the Netherlands). Strangely enough, they are in the final stages of constructing a large indoor slope about 8 miles from my home at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, even though we are less than an hour from real slopes (See: the Xanadu project). This will be the first indoor snow facility in the United States. Will I be spending many weekends on indoor man made snow in the middle of winter? – nope. But I can see myself taking a few trips over during the summer as I wait for the real stuff to start falling out of the sky.
The worst part about Xscape: It makes you want winter to come quicker…