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Snow Magazine visits Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre and finds it home to a thriving dry-slope ski community. If you're based in the West Country, this is the place to go. 

Looking out from the top of the main slope, with Coopers Hill in the distance. Photo: Harriet Green

For UK skiers wanting to learn the ropes or regularly top up technique, snowdomes and dry-ski slopes are pretty much the only option if you can’t afford to go glacier skiing or down to the southern hemisphere. So, can you learn to love plastic pistes? 

Well, if they’re as well run as the Gloucester one the answer is a positive yes. The home of Britain’s longest dry ski slope - an impressive 255m – Gloucester Ski and Snowboard Centre celebrated its 50th anniversary just last year and hosts a thriving dry-ski community of young racers and recreational skiers at its attractive tree-lined setting at Robinswood Hill, on the outskirts of town. 

Ski down its main tree-lined slope and you get views stretching as far as Coopers Hill, home of the famous cheese-rolling contest. And if you’re lucky you may even glimpse the resident parrot flitting among the treetops – and you won’t get that in the Alps!

Gloucester Ski Centre manager Cameron Singer, Ski School head Sue Dermody and ski coach Terry Jeynes. Photo: Harriet Green

As well as its main slope, Gloucester has a 200m freestyle slope with fun park features (surfaced in Snowflex, for a softer landing), an airbag for jump practice on selected nights, and a 40m nursery slope, all served by three button lifts. A recent addition is a new tubing slope. For non-skiers, it also operates laser-tag sessions in the surrounding woods. The centre has a fully licensed café bar (Eddie’s Ski Shack, named after the slope’s celebrity ambassador Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards) and a ski shop which sells a range of skis and boots, and offers boot fitting and ski servicing.

Casual skiers can come along pretty much any day, with a four-hour session costing £40 for adults, £37 for juniors, which includes ski, boot and helmet hire. To take part in recreational sessions you need to be able to stop, link turns and use the lifts and you must wear long sleeves, trousers and gloves. 

There are coaching sessions three days a week – including a Ladies Morning every Wednesday – a wide range of group and private lessons, an after-school club, evening sessions and holiday ski schools for young skiers, plus various ‘specials’ such as Fresh Tracks, Air Bag Nights and Slalom Practice. Some local schools use the centre as prep for school ski trips.

Looking up the main slope at Gloucester. Photo: Harriet Green

The slope hosts sessions for Gloucester Adaptive Skiing and for children with special educational needs, such as autism. In addition, they run instructor training for Snowsport England, offering BASI and IASI (an Irish qualification accepted in Europe) levels, plus Disability Snowsports UK.

On top of all that, the team organise three Alpine holidays every winter - Hintertux in December, Pila in January and La Thuile in March. These are very popular - this year’s trip to La Thuile attracted 60 skiers.

Snow checked out the Friday morning social group under the guidance of independent coach Terry Jeyes. This runs every week from 10am-12noon, combining a bit of coaching with socialising over coffee. The group – mostly retirees - can range in size from 1 or 2 to as many as 20, but these sessions invariably get more popular in the autumn towards start of the ski season.

Ski School head Sue Dermody has been involved at Gloucester for 30 years and is in no doubt as to why the community vibe here is so strong: ‘It’s the best place to learn to ski – it’s cheap, quiet and we have a great team of instructors.’

That comment was echoed by the clients we met who loved the coaching and who had nearly all been on at least one of the organised ski trips. Indeed, the social aspect overall was much appreciated by users.

Volunteer instructor Jeff Barratt reaches the top of the drag lift. Photo: Harriet Green

Jeff Barratt signed up for a Level 1 Ski Foundation instructors’ course and now volunteers as an instructor. He said: ‘The team at Gloucester were very welcoming and went out of their way to guide me through to my level 1. A big benefit of coming to Gloucester, especially for the Friday morning social sessions, is that you can meet and make friends with other skiers. And that feeds into the holidays they arrange too.’

Snow’s verdict: Like many people, we are wary of the unforgiving nature of a dry slope surface – you can’t have bad habits on a dry slope, says Terry – and, ironically, it skis better when it’s wet, so ideal for your average British summer. The centre is in a very pleasant setting and everything is clean, tidy and well maintained. Eddie’s Ski Shack serves proper coffee and has a decent menu for snacks and meals. It’s a great place for beginners to get used to the equipment (boots, skis and poles) and using the button lifts.

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