Indoor Ski Slope Review : Castleford Xscape

I hold a ski and wear a ski boot for the first time…

Okay, here is the story.

I am very nearly 34 and have never been skiing, nor have I ever worn a ski boot or touched a ski. Ever.

So, when a friends brother had arranged a skiing trip to Bulgaria (tomorrow), naturally I invited myself.

Skiing is one of those things I have always wanted to do, but never have.

My sister can ski, many of my friends can ski, my girlfriend can ski and I would be pretty surprised if my cat couldn’t ski.

However, I have been out in the cold, so to speak.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t the opportunities as a child.

As I said my sister has been skiing a good number of times and my friends would go on snowboarding excursions well after we were thrown in to the world of young professional life with a bit of disposable income in out pocket.

Even at school we have a army and air force cadet attachment and then alone there were two opportunities to go skiing in Canada at the BATUS camp.

There was even a dry ski slope in the neighboring city which eventually was the subject of an arson attack, although I think it may be reopening soon with a downhill mountain bike track.

However, because I couldn’t ski and deemed it quite complicated (not sure why, just the fear of the unknown) I never bothered going.

But now, with nothing more than the ridicule of my friends I thought I should give it a go.

Xscape, Castleford

This trip to Bulgaria is five days all in all.

However, I think we will probably have three days on the slopes, at least three full days anyway.

My girlfriend suggested that to get the best out of the trip and not to be a complete loser that I should at least get to grips with experiencing skis.

So, I booked myself in for a three hour lesson and nervously headed over as I just assumed it would be full of people razzing around looking extremely bloody brilliant and I would be there face down in some snow.

When we arrived, the whole complex is pretty big, it’s not just a indoor ski slope it is:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Climbing walls
  • Trampolines
  • Hotels
  • Lazer quest

Basically you could stay in one of the hotels here for a week and do all of the activities each day while never even having to leave for food or drink.

The surrounding area isn’t great as it is just housing and roads, but you could have a full on activity vacation if that’s what you fancied.

I don’t because it is only about a 40 minute drive from my village.

After very little searching I found the main desk who gave me a pass with the details for my lesson one and two (three hours total) and was pointed in the direction of the boot room.

They asked my shoe size and weight, got my boots, fiddled with the skis and handed them over to me.

Having never, ever even touched either I grappled with them all and went to sit on some benches with a load of other people who looked a little lost and confused.

It seems this was my group.

As a side note, you can hire all of the equipment you need.

What came included with the cost of the lesson was:

  • Boots
  • Skis
  • Helmet

I took my own clothing such as:

  • Waterproof winter cycling gloves (I hadn’t bought proper ski gloves by then)
  • Very thick and insulated sailing jacket/coat by Musto
  • My own Nevica salopettes
  • Rhino compression base layer
  • Nevica ski socks

However, I have now bought some Nevica ski gloves, I will take a neck buff just in case, some Carrera sunglasses, An X-Blades NRL beanie from Australia and a pair of Rhino compression tights.

One thing I noticed when I put my ski boots on was that there is not foot support at all and this made my feet ache.

As a result, I have bought some of those gel insoles to place in the boots when I head over to see if that helps.

Lesson

So, the first part of the lesson were our instructions on how to put our boots on and how they should feel. This was just like a roller blade boot.

It is simple enough and easy to get a good fit, however, as I was saying my feet seemed to ache. Now this could because they are battered hire boots or just that my feet didn’t like them but I will take the gel insoles with me to Bulgaria.

Then we got a helmet and walked out towards the snow with our skis in hand.

This was where we were then instructed on how a ski works as well as the mechanism that connects the boot to the ski.

Having never seen one before, it was this sort of experience I wanted to avoid while being in Bulgaria, so even though a little thing, it helps build you confidence.

It seems any ski can go on either foot as long as it is facing the right way road which is hard to get wrong.

With one ski on were followed each other (a combined lesson part of a bout eight) in a circle to use one foot to propel ourselves along as if we were on a scooter or skate board.

We then took the ski off our left foot and put it on the right foot to do the same exercise.

This gave you an idea of how the ski feels on the snow without slipping everywhere and how it feels to have a four foot extension on your foot.

Then we placed the skis on both feet which is a bit more difficult when it comes to balancing, but once on the skis do not slide around uncontrollably like ice skates or roller blades can.

With the skis on were were told how the edge of the ski can be used for braking and turning as well as transversing uphill.

Body Position

Once we got the hang of walking around/shuffling like penguins in a circle we would line up and then get told how best to stand and position our body for going down hill.

This is possibly the most important instruction. If you get your body position wrong, you will fall over it seems.

Seriously, just listen to the instructor.

  • Lean forward in to your boot so your shins are resting against the front tongue of the boot.
  • Bend your knees and relax your hips.
  • Your belly button should be leaning in front of your ankles.
  • Keep your shoulders in line with your kips and knees.
  • Look straight ahead and not on the ground, where you look you tend to ski in that direction.
  • Leaning backward will make you go fast and as a beginner you will likely lose balance.
  • If you start swinging your shoulders and arms around the rest of your lower body will try to following and your skis will follow leaving you in a mess.
  • Place your hands by your hips.

Again, have faith in the instructions to lean forward, you will not fall over whereas if you lean backwards you most likely will.

Everyone that kept repeatedly falling over kept leaning backwards and positioning their hands out wide as if they were on a tight rope.

Snowplow

We were then told how to position ourselves for the snowplow. Which is essentially the image above.

That s the position you should be in.

The snowplow allows your to ski down hill in a slow and controlled manner. If you keep that position with your hands in, looking straight ahead legs slightly bent and chest with shins leaning in to the boot you will safely ski downwards.

If you lean backwards you’ll go faster and become unbalanced. If you shoulders start turning and arms flailing you will also lose balance and fall in a heap.

However, if you do, it doesn’t matter, no one seemed to care that people couldn’t get it the first time or didn’t have the confidence to lean forward in to the boot.

However, I didn’t fall over once doing it, and it was because of my body position.

We were then instructed to shimmy ourselves up the slope to a cone using the edge of the ski for grip and traction then turn to snowplow down hill by about four feet at first.

Gradually as everyone got the hang of it we would move further up the slope and snow plowdown.

When we got to the top (it’s not a big slope and there’s a barrier of foam at the bottom) the instructor will stay out in front of you and ski backwards down so if you need any balance or help he/she can help.

Control

The snowplow is all about controlled speed. The easiest way to accomplish this is just sliding your heels outwards, the further you push them out the slower you will go.

Maintain the body position and you become rock solid and well balanced while just slowly sliding downwards until you reach the bottom.

When you do get to the bottom I found that I naturally could lean to the left or right and make a turn.

However, before we could turn we had to return to the top and make a slow and controlled descent between some cones which had a gap of about four feet in width.

Again, push the heels out, slow it right down, maintain the body position and look straight ahead.

Then we were instructed to do a bunny hop while in a line at the bottom of the hill.

It’s easier to try and lift from the rear or the heel of your foot and land flat.

Once we could all do that, we had to ski downhill in the snowplow position and do the bunny hop half way down.

This is a good way to get a bit of speed or to start from the top of the slope without trying to wiggle in order to reach some forward momentum.

We pretty much all managed to do that, although a couple struggled.

I think this was still much to do with the body position, arm and hand position plus confidence in leaning forward over the ski and in to the boot.

However, moving on was out next challenge which is a bit more difficult.

Direction

We had a slalom of cones (only four!) to maneuver around while skiing downhill in the snowplow.

This took more control, but again, maintain the strong core body position, keep your heels pushed out to control your speed and being slower is better.

To turn, if you were going to make a right turn you would need to push your left heel out further that your right heel.

After a few goes, it felt quite natural and the extension of your feet by about four foot didn’t seem quite as odd.

By then three hours had passed and that was the end of our lesson 1 & 2.

We took our skis off and walked back to the boot room to dump our other equipment.

Before we left the instructor would go through what we had completed on an individual level and whether we needed more time on certain aspects or if we were good enough to move to level 3, 4 and 5.

Thankfully he said I was fine and had the most control of the skis than any other member of our little group.

Obviously, I felt like like King Kong after that and was excited to see the video of me snowplowing down the slope which felt quite fast.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I saw literally how slow I was (see above!).

What are me thoughts of my first lessons on the ski slope and Xscape Castleford?

I am so glad I have just even figured out how the ski boot and ski connection thing works.

At least I can put my boots on and click in to the ski.

The body position was a big help. Without knowing that I think you could get yourself in to big problems.

I felt that was the biggest and most important lesson. Those who kept falling over were the ones that didn’t maintain that tight and instructed body position.

The instructor was attentive and let you crack on if he felt you were good enough which I liked because I didn’t want to be held back just because someone else couldn’t keep their balance.

Overall, the place was good.

We didn’t go on the ski lift, that would be instructed in lesson 3, nor did we go on the long, steep slope.

However, if you were a competent skier it looked good fun and there were plenty of people on it.

At one point our training areas felt a bit full and its quite difficult sometimes having to try and squeeze through or past other people who are also novices and with skis flailing everywhere.

However, if you were in the same position as me with no ski experience at all and you are either gatecrashing someone’s stag/buck party or have decided to take the plunge, these three hours will be invaluable for you.

I know feel I at least know the basics and that when I go to Bulgaria tomorrow I will not be too clueless and if anything I can at least snowplow in to a bar.

Cost

£89.99 for adults during the weekend. This includes use of skis, boots and a helmet.

You can hire additional clothing separately.

Things to note:

It is cold, obviously, so wear thick socks and take waterproof lined, warm gloves.

You do get remarkably hot because of the exercise involved. I only had one layer under my jacket and I was sweating loads.

Yo do not necessarily have to have a ski jacket. Even a quilted jacket or a winter jacket would be okay as long as it can be fastened securely.

Don’t worry about falling over. Loads of people are doing so and do not think the instructors will be cooler than thou, trendy, extreme sports aloof types. They’re really friendly and attentive where needed.

There’s a wide mix of people there. Ranging from toddlers to older people.

There’s not a load of surly teenagers hogging areas and acting as if they own the place like they do at skate parks.

Then, get ready to ache a bit the next day, you’ll be getting a good workout.

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