Summer Skibiking - AlpinCenter Bottrop

Posted: Saturday, 15 June 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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Introduction

If you have closely followed this website you will know that in the ski off season I like to maintain what paltry balance skills I have by fitting in a few crafty trips to indoor ski domes and even the occasional session on a dry ski slope.
The AlpinCenter Bottrop is the World's longest indoor ski slope, yet few seem to have heard of it. The feature that got my attention though was that uplift is by conveyor belt or "magic carpet" as those smooth marketing types would prefer to call it. If you know me well, you will know that I don't interface well with a skibike and a drag lift. So you would appreciate that this is a massive selling point for me.

For these reasons, I had been planning an off season visit since I first discovered the AlpinCenter Bottrop last Autumn. So when a few days work in Amsterdam at the RAI exhibition centre came along, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss as Bottrop is just under 2 hours from Amsterdam. Furthermore the company I was working for very equitably offered to pay my fuel costs up to the equivalent cost of an air fare.

Where to Stay 

Once my work in Amsterdam was complete it was time to jump in the car and head South post haste.
I needed a room overnight that was close to AlpinCenter Bottrop and I managed to find the Hotel Böll through Late Rooms. I was running late and expected to arrive slightly later than the stated 10pm "latest check in", however I managed to call through on route and the helpful staff waited for me to arrive at around 10.30, "Ich danke ihnen vielmals Fräulein" - thanks Doris much appreciated.

Image of the Hotel Böll accomodation block with grassed area in the foreground
Hotel Böll - simple, clean and basic


The accommodation at the Hotel Böll was simple, clean and basic, exactly what I needed. The free parking was an added bonus, I had a lot of stuff with me in the car and fortunately it was well sheltered from view.
There are plenty of late night eateries just around the corner in the centre of town, which appears to have quite a large Turkish community, Kebab lovers are well catered for here. In spite of the suburban location, the room was quiet and peaceful, giving me a much needed good night's rest.

Industrial Heartland

The following morning it was time to locate the AlpinCenter Bottrop which is just 15 minutes from the Hotel Böll. Bottrop is a suburb of Essen, an industrial town in Germany's inustrial heart land known to English speakers as The Ruhr. The AlpinCenter Bottrop itself overlooks an industrial valley, which looks hauntingly similar to the outskirts of  Birmingham, oh except that here they still make stuff! The hill that the AlpinCenter Bottrop stands on is the result of centuries of coke making (the fuel not the drink!) and continues to this day at the ArcelorMittal plant. The hill itself is formed from an accumulation of stony bi-products, I would call it a slag heap, but that is probably not the term the marketing department would prefer.
However, in spite of all the chimney stacks, storage yards and fuel tanks that abound, the area is lush, verdant and sylvan, making it a pleasant spot in mid summer with a unique vista.

Image of the ArcelorMittal Coking plant Bottrop in a densely wooded area
Bottrop - chimney stacks, storage yards and fuel tanks abound


First Run on German Snow

I wanted to limber up and recce the layout using SnowBlades first and had hardly got the boot open before a chatty ski instructor parked alongside me spotted my vintage Raichle ski boots, passed comment and was curious to know whether I was with the military, I imagine this area would have been full of military personnel in the days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As we chatted he was able to confirm that there would be no problem using my "skibob", I didn't mention the lack of footskis, but waited to see what would happen later.

Immediately behind the Alpine style chalet entrance there is a reception area where you are provided with a paper bracelet type ticket and a card for 3 alcoholic beverages. Further inside the building is a bar and buffet to one side and the locker/changing/equipment rooms to the other. Skis, poles, snowboards, boots and helmets are all available in the price of admission should you need them. It appeared to be the typical mid range stock you would expect in this sort of facility.

Image of the Alpine chalet entrance at the AlpinCenter Bottrop
AlpinCenter Bottrop - Alpine style chalet entrance

Once past these areas you go through an air lock to find yourself almost at the top of the slope. This is quite an unusual arrangement that not once have I encountered anywhere else. Immediately in front of you are the nursery slopes, to your right and slightly higher is the end of the travellator and to your left the "dangerous" slope with a gradient of 25% reserved for intermediate skiers/riders and above. A warning sign alerts you of the start of this section. In reality the grade would be considered an easy blue by any standard, towards the end there is a dog leg to the left. Irritatingly, no matter how fast you go, the last 80 metres, alongside the snow park, require an uphill climb.

Image of a skibike on the lift at the AlpinCenter Bottrop
The conveyor belt uplift

This brings you to the start of the conveyor belt back to return you to the top. There are two belts running in parallel, for the duration of my visit only one of which was working, I imagine the other is fired up during busier periods. Traffic lights guide you to enter at periodic intervals in order to keep "traffic" seperated. There are no lift operators present, but the area is monitored by CCTV, the management don't like people shuffling closer to chat and will tell you over the P.A.!
Unless you are the World's slowest snow user, the sad fact is that the travellator is where you will spend most of your time at the AlpinCenter Bottrop heading back uphill. It is somewhat gloomy and industrial and would benefit from a bit of a makeover. Music is piped through, offering an ecclectic selection of bouncy tunes ranging from Trad Jazz through Euro Dance/Pop to Bavarian Oompa. Whether this brings delight or torture will be a matter of taste, but it was nice to hear the jaunty 80's pop hit "Take on Me" by a-ha which I haven't heard in a long while.

At the end of the travellator, snowboarders hop off to the side whilst skiers or skibikers! are tipped straight onto an icy incline with a testing right angle bend that leads back to the top of the nursery slopes.

Having played on my blades for a couple of hours, I stopped for some late breakfast at the buffet bar.
On offer was a typical selection of Germanic food, with many combinations of pork and potatoes, plus a well stocked salad bar, no shortage of fresh rolls, cold meats and cheeses, fresh coffee, soft drinks and even ice creams for desert.
Refreshed, I headed back to the car to switch boots and prep the skibike. Once assembled I headed back inside expecting to be accosted by the management, but no-one so much as batted an eyelid over the use of a skibike. Some younger Germans pointed and commented "keine fuß skis" - no foot skis, I can but assume that freestyle skibikes aren't all that common around here and they have only seen the ubiquitous Brenter SnowBike before.

Image of a skibike at the start of the main slope at the AlpinCenter Bottrop
AlpinCenter Bottrop - Start of the main slope

The snow was good, if a little icy in places, the worst section was at the top of the conveyor belt, at the end of the day it was a block of ice surrounded by a pool of melt water. Oddly some sections of snow felt slower than others, if you got some speed up, you could really feel the deceleration when you hit them. Predictably I found the best snow was to be found at the edge of the piste where there had been the least traffic. Upon inspection I found that my skis had acquired some odd black sticky contamination trapped in the wax layer, perhaps I needed special artificial snow wax?

Image of the nursery slope at the AlpinCenter Bottrop
AlpinCenter Bottrop - The nursery slope


I have read comments that some find the lighting at gloomy, it lacks the clinical level of floodlighting that some other indoor ski centres employ, but you certainly don't need a headlight!

I lost all track of time and just enjoyed putting in run after run, there was virtually no-one else there and I could head straight down the fall line or practice moves as the whim took me. I managed a neat 180° spin, but still haven't got the hang of riding backwards yet! Stopping for a coffee at what I thought was tea time actually turned out to be nearer 8 pm. I put in a few final runs and a "swift half" at the bar before loading up for the drive back to Calais, some 4 hours plus away.

In Conclusion

AlpinCenter Bottrop offers unbeatable value, you can spend all day and evening on the snow, eat and drink heartily for a price that equates to a single hour on one of London's indoor ski centres. The conveyor belt uplift works superbly with a skibike, even the most inexperienced rider would get it within a couple of rides.

It is worth noting that the run may be 640m long, but the total length it is a little bit missleading. The first half is on a very shallow gradient to suit novices, an intermedite rider will head as directly as possible through it. I had to scoot a fair bit of the way to keep above walking pace and really only found the next section useful. With the final section running uphill you can iether hit it at full tilt or face a fair old uphill walk, this is even worse if you are on skis or a snowboard. This means that the total length you can use to practice your turns, stopping, etc. is only about 200m long. But this is still about twice the length of anything similar here in the UK.

For non skiers, there is a summer "Cresta run" and a "Via Ferrata" high level walkway too.

Scores at a Glance:
  • Value: 10/10
  • Efficiency: 10/10
  • Snow Quality: 8/10
  • Slope Design: 7/10
  • SkiBike Firendliness: 10/10

Would I go back?

In an instant, not only is the AlpinCenter Bottrop a fun place to visit, but I am certain that it is the best venue in Europe for a novice to experience skibiking for the first time and build confidence before going on holiday.