– Image edited from here.
You’ll find artificial ski slopes all over the world including in Dubai, South Africa and Singapore. So it’s likely that at some point you’ll either take part in a course on one, or that you’ll teach on one. So we’ll take a look here at the types of slopes you might be on, the qualifications needed and what the differences can be between artificial slopes and in mountainous environments.
Firstly, the different types of artificial slopes. These can be artificial snow or what are known as ‘dry’ ski slopes. The main difference between the two is that artificial snow is exactly that, snow is made from a water mixture, the slopes are indoors and they have to be kept as cool as if it were an outdoor environment to keep the snow from melting. Dry ski slopes, or plastic slopes, are made from a variety of materials (mainly dendix, snowflex and perma-snow) with a bristle-like texture designed for skiing in outdoor areas where there isn’t usually snow to ski on. The very obvious difference between the two is that one is very similar to skiing on real snow in an outdoor environment and the other is a more artificial material that doesn’t resemble normal snow.
Indoor snow domes have become increasingly popular around the world and can be found in a huge range of countries including Singapore, Dubai, China and the UK. They range in sizes and facilities available but usually host a lift to take you to the top of a slope, a beginner’s area and often an area for other activities such as tubing or sledging. The main benefit is that you can practice your skiing or snowboarding on a material as close to real snow as you’re going to get, whilst also having the safety of an inside space without the often harsh mountain conditions.
However, they can get very crowded, although numbers will usually be restricted for safety purposes. As an instructor this can mean you teaching a group of 10 or more people on a much smaller slope than would be found on the mountain and with a higher number of people skiing around you. From an instructor perspective, teaching on artificial snow is a very similar experience to teaching on real snow. With limited space, you may need to adapt your activities and lessons to account for this. You also need to remember that it’s still as cold as outdoors, sometimes colder than some areas, and that you’ll need to keep your students moving so that they don’t get too cold.
Dry ski slopes.
Dry ski slopes have become less popular since the rise of the indoor snow domes, but there are a number still around if you’re interested. The material is usually like a short plastic bristle, either as a carpet-style or honeycomb shaped. They are often laid out in similar ways to indoor snow domes with a main slope (and associated lift), beginner’s area and some space for additional activities such as tubing. In the UK, a new form of dry slope has been developed called Skiplex. This is an artificial material made into a treadmill style operation (similar to artificial surfing often found on cruise ships). These take up a very small space compared to normal slopes and are very useful for people to learn before they ski on snow or to work on developing technique.
Dry ski slopes can feel different to ski on than snow or artificial snow because of the nature of the material. If you are planning to teach on a dry ski slope and haven’t skied on the material before then it would probably be worth trying it out before you start. In terms of teaching, remember that you’re usually outside and exposed to the elements (sun, wind and rain) so you need to adapt your safety messages for this, and it’s important that your clients have their arms and legs covered (no shorts) because falling and sliding on the material can feel like carpet-burn. Sliding on the material can feel foreign to someone who is used to real snow, but to beginners, the slightly reduced sliding ability may help them to develop other skills without speeding up as much. Other than that, there are similarities to teaching on indoor slopes as the slopes are often shorter than in ski resorts and so there can be a lot of people in a small space, and you can build your experience in a more predictable environment.
Who works on indoor & artificial ski slopes?
Lower level instructors (such as the BASI Level 1) are often restricted to teaching in an artificial environment because they haven’t necessarily been taught the skills to teach in a natural environment, or have the experience required to do so. However, teaching on an artificial slope is a great way to gain lots of experience in teaching styles, drills, class management, gaining experience hours required, and make you more familiar with student progression. Additionally, they are great places to get work out of the main seasons in ski resorts so that you can keep your teaching going when the snow has melted.
Other reasons artificial & snow domes are good.
Artificial slopes also give you the chance to train for and complete exams outside of the main ski seasons. Lower level exams, first aid courses and refreshers are often scheduled to take place on artificial slopes. And if you achieve status as a trainer or assessor for exams then you will be able to work outside of the main seasons by delivering these courses and exams.
Artificial ski slopes have been praised for the increasing success of the British freestyle skiers and snowboarders. Whilst the UK is not known for its great skiing, artificial slopes are the perfect environment for the repetitive laps required to hone freestyle skills, and lots of them have dedicated freestyle sessions, camps and training if you want to improve your freestyle skills.