Hemel happiness

“Yes you can, because we’re not MK…” was the catchphrase of the night. It’s the second freestyle Park and Ride night and my first time up at the new Hemel Snow Centre.
I’m blatantly not the only first-timer up there, as there’s others sharing my awe at the building and slope. Some guy thought I worked there, asking questions about how I (yes, me personally) get the snow so much better than the other nearby indoor snow centres. Behind me, a very clever kid gaping through the window proudly announced: “Daddy, I very much think that some of that snow is actually real snow.” Genius.
The building itself looks slick from the outside – all natural wood, natural light from the massive windows, and blends into the trees, not sticking out on the horizon. Then when you’re inside, you’re greeted by very friendly people who want to help you and genuinely want to make sure you’re having a good time.
But as much as an indoor snow slope can welcome and charm you, it’s all about the riding, and we were there for the Park and Ride freestyle night, which runs every Friday from 7 to 11pm. There was one big kinked rail and one big kicker on the main slope, and then two boxes, two small rails and a small jump on the teaching slope, which meant that all levels of rider had something to play on. The main slope was also nicely groomed, and it always seemed to be quite clear, despite the number of people in the centre.
Later on, there were a fair few people waiting for the bigger features, but it always seemed to flow quickly. Our only real concern was that the features were all quite close together, such as the landing of the big rail being right where people were waiting for the big kicker. But there was never any problems, and the benefits seemed to outweigh this.
For example, we were most impressed by the park shapers. They always made sure the jump was perfect, and the landings on all the rails and boxes were smooth. The park shapers were also really helpful with giving tips on riding – such as when I mentally decided I was going to break something if I was to keep going that speed over the kicker (I‘m going away next week and so it was a legitimate fear I think!), so I slowed down and consequently didn’t quite land the gap properly. In fact I have never been more glad for wearing padded shorts, but the guys were really helpful with giving me advice – and it didn’t involve “don’t do the jump”!
All I thought was that this place lacks a nice bar… but then I was proved wrong. Complete with balcony and panoramic view of the slope, head upstairs for a cold beer, and you could forget you were in Hemel. It even felt like you were in a comfortable chain bar, and nothing like being in a leisure centre café.
The word on the street is that the Snow Centre wants to make this the biggest freestyle night in Britain. It’s not quite there yet but if you give kids everything in one go, then they’ll always demand more. The staff were great, the park shaping was immaculate, and I’m very impressed with the whole relaxed atmosphere in the Snow Centre – no one felt pressured to do anything, either by the staff or by others on the slopes. It’s also the added extras they give, such as lockers which actually give you your £1 back – granted, it seems to throw it out at you each time, but no one can complain about getting money thrown at them.
Overall, I’d come back to Park and Ride. To make it bigger, and if more people were to come, they need to sort out the layout, maybe some live music, and add a few more features. But I cannot fault the staff, both on and off the slopes, and the whole Snow Centre set-up, for providing such a great UK freestyle night.

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