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Mike Walker visits Skiplex’s innovative conveyor belt slope to see if a gammy kneed die-hard snowboarder can possibly fall in love with two planks

I have, for many years been a diehard snowboarder who loves charging hard wherever I go be it on-piste or off. I never really considered skiing as a viable option until recently, recognising that innovations in ski design have made them the ultimate go-anywhere mountain weapon.

Fatter skis, better bindings and new boot technologies has opened up a whole new world to explore, and has arguably made skiing the more attractive of the two pursuits to more adventurous people.

So, the times have changed and the seed has been sewn for my decision to jump ship but 16 years of snowboarding has made me apprehensive about being a beginner again, tumbling off lifts, ungraciously hacking my way around the lower levels of ski resorts, not being able to explore the upper reaches of these mountain paradises.

So I’m impatient to get onto skis but somehow want to skip the torturous beginner stage. The advice from friends in the know was unanimous – if you want to learn how to ski or snowboard quickly, go to Skiplex.

If you haven’t heard of Skiplex, you need to check it out. The concept is simple but genius. Imagine a big, wide treadmill but rather than a sticky rubberised material you get a dry ski slope style white carpet.

The operator/instructor adjusts the speed and incline to suit more, or less competent skiers. A hand rail at the front provides a stable starting point and a wall of mirrors provides regular painful reminders of your form or lack thereof. Instructors stand a few feet away which is easily close enough to scrutinise your technique in minute detail.

My first lesson gave me exclusive use of the slope with the excellent head instructor who was patient but firm. There’s no hanging around here, you’re on and going before you have the chance to think about it – perhaps one of the key ingredients in a recipe for successful learning?

The lessons are intense. 15 minutes sounds like nothing – how can you possibly achieve anything in that short space of time? But with no lifts, queues, trees, bumps or other skiers to contend with, that 15 minutes is pure ski time. When you put that into perspective it’s the equivalent of skiing a 3-5 mile run in a ski resort.

The sensation of skiing on a Skiplex slope takes some getting used to. There are moments when the juxtaposition of moving whilst not moving are too complex a set of sensations for the brain to handle. This can (and did) result in an embarrassingly lame ‘fall’ whereby you involuntarily decide that the ground is now the place to be. By the time you get there the instructor will have pressed the big red stop button saving you from any further embarrassment or indeed injury.

By the end of the first lesson I was confidently zig zagging my way left and right in that most ungracious of poses, the snowplough, controlling my speed and direction of travel well, I was a little surprised when the instructor told me that we’d move on to parallel turns during the next lesson.

On to the next lesson, no such luxuries as having the slope and instructor to myself. With others on the slope – albeit only two others – the pressure is really on to stay upright, not least because the others are skiing a mere few feet away from me.

With the snowplough positively nailed the instructor encouraged me to work on my parallel turns. This is where it gets serious and the technique has to be really clean and concise. The first leap of faith results in a skittish moment and the instructor diving for the idiot button but I somehow manage to regain my composure and re-assume the snowplough position. A few more tips from the instructor, a big dose of brave pills and I was ready to commit once more. This time it somehow worked. Excitement, elation…..and then I tried to turn left. It was as I feared, an old knee injury holding me back once again. I continued to parallel turn right, snowplough left for the rest of the session and came off feeling happy to have made such great progress but slightly disappointed that I couldn’t hide my injury as well on a pair of skis as I could on a snowboard.

I’d love to say that the progress made was thanks to my inherent ski mojo and amazing athleticism but in reality it’s thanks to this ingenious way of approaching the process of learning to ski at the Skiplex, the instructors really know their stuff and know how to use the slope to their advantage.

The acid test will be on a trip to Chamonix in a few weeks, will I be able to resist the draw of jumping back into the clutches of my trusty old snowboard? Probably not. 


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