What the Dickens! - Training on the Kentish Alps

Posted: Tuesday, 23 August 2011 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

It seems that since the return from my last jaunt in April I have done nothing but DIY around the house. So having completed lots of essential DIY chores, I owed myself an escapist treat.
I had an easy, but early 7am - 12am session at work, but this, coupled with my 30 mile cycle commute and a late lunch meant an afternoon nap was mandatory.
I awoke an hour later feeling decidedly week and shaky; but forced myself to get going and out of the house.

My destination was Chatham, once one of the British Empire's major naval bases and next door to Rochester, a favorite city of the popular English writer Charles Dickens. In modern times Chatham has contributed the word "Chav" to common parlance, this would roughly translate to "Punk" for our North American cousins.
But Chatham is also home to the longest dry ski slope in Kent. For the cynical doubters, Kent also has dry ski slopes at Bromley, Tonbridge and Folkestone. In the unlikely event that you have never heard of dry ski slopes before, they are artificial materials laid over a hill side, so as to simulate the sensation of sliding on a snowy surface.

The Chatham ski centre itself is quite hard to find, even using sat nav and having visited once before, I still managed to drive past. Upon arrival and to my great surprise, the slope was totally empty; I know August is never going to be peak ski practice season, but I thought there would be someone else larking about. Having paid the fee and signed the disclaimer I kitted up and headed out with some trepidation. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't skied on this type of surface since the late 90's, I hadn't worn SkiBlades since Tignes in April. Would I have forgotten everything and resort to a few snowplough descents before heading to the pub to drown my sorrows?

Luckily the first run went ok, inelegant, but I survived. The surface doesn't glide like the real thing, at the same time it was proving elusive to find the edge "break away" point.
I persevered, then suddenly, after an hour or so, I had cracked it and could speed things up and start enjoying myself a whole lot more.

Racing down the dry slopes - source JNL
As the afternoon became evening others joined me on the slope. A cautious SnowBoarder put in some turns as we met at the lift, it turned out to be a member of staff "Are you still out here?" he enquired. I checked the time, it was nearly 3 hours since I had arrived and I had only paid for a 2 hour session. I put in a last run and headed back to the car before I was dragged off.
It was great to be "back in the saddle" if only metaphorically; I had asked previously if SkiBikes could be used at Chatham, but was rejected on the grounds of health and safety. To be honest, the slope is quite small and the possibility of novice SkiBikers crashing doesn't bear thinking about.

I went home, had refreshments and slept like a log. I didn't dream about Chatham, Chavs or Charles Dickens, but I did enjoy an afternoon of Great Expectations fulfilled.

Should you feel like giving it a try, a 2 hour open practice session cost £16. Boots and skis are included if you need them. You need to be able to ski to a level where you can link turns, control your speed and stop. Group lessons and tuition are available throughout the year if you don't meet these standards.