Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre – Review – My Yesterday…..

As I'm getting older I've had a total change in my mind set. It’s a combination of things that have got me to this point to be honest, most of which are way too personal for a blog post like this! However, more recently I have had a "grab life with both hands" approach to my days and a "you only live once so make it count" attitude.

Bexley family photographer Nina Callow

I am really fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful family and friends. One bunch in particular - my holiday crowd - a bunch of adults that met over the years on holiday, all with similar aged children and the same outlook on life - are a bunch I really look forward to spending time with. I don't think I can imagine going on holiday without them again. If you’re reading this you lot take note!! Up until this year, we've all headed off to Greece for two weeks in the summer to spend our days sailing, playing tennis, sunbathing, drinking and to be honest, just being one crazy big family and I absolutely love it. This lot put the biggest smile on my face, with our crazy tables for 24 (or just for 10 adults) they make my holidays - I mean they really make it! This year we have 3 holidays booked together and I just can’t wait!

Back to the tangent I've just come off! A last minute space became available with my holiday friends, on the ski trip they had booked last year. It seemed like fate and the perfect chance to take my teenagers to join my friends (my little one has a different half term this year but is skiing with his school the week before we go) Even just last summer, I would have been terrified to go on a skiing holiday. My last experience of skiing was when I was 18 and that is a long time ago! I went with my school and to say I spent an entire week on my backside is an understatement. I actually came away from that week with the prize for the "skier of the week". Sounds good you may think - however it was not for my skiing skills, oh no! It was for my sheer determination not to give up, it didn't get me anywhere as I was still blinking useless! So with this being the only memory of a ski holiday I had, you may think I was bonkers to contemplate taking my two teens, on my own, away to meet my good friends who ski several times a year and are amazing black run skiers!

Bexley family photographer Nina Callow

Having managed to get my hands on what must have been the last lessons available in the whole of Morzine I was advised to go to the snow dome at Hemel to get a bit of practice under my belt. This advice could not have been better! Yesterday, I joined a lovely bunch of 9 other adults, for an intensive 5 hour beginners ski course. Two 2.5 hour sessions with an hour’s lunch break in between (lunch included in the price too!) to, well, learn the basics I guess.  As some of my friends know, the nearer I got to the day, the more terrified I became and having made the trip over by train and arriving a bit earlier than needed, I sat in their restaurant bar staring at these two slopes through a great big glass viewing window and was almost sick with fear!

I actually couldn't have been more wrong with my expectations for the day. I had expected to be absolutely rubbish and spend the entire time on my back side! However what actually happened was I only fell over 3 times (once because I got my boot stuck in a hole in the snow!, the second time because the bloke in front stacked it getting of the travelator and lastly on my first trip to the top because it was a little bit icy up there - due to the height of course ;)

My instructor, David, was amazing! He took his time to show us all the basics, and make sure our posture was spot on before moving onto the next phase. After lunch things picked up a pace and those of us that were ready for a further challenge were moved further and further up the slope. I couldn't believe to be one of - initially only two of us - from the group that did this first. A small group of us were soon flying down from the top, and it was the most exhilarating thing - almost as exhilarating as sailing, and I'm pretty sure by the end of my weeks skiing in France, they will be on a par! (and anyone who knows how much I like sailing will know how big a deal this is!!)

So, what are my top tips for skiing at the snow dome? It’s warmer than you think, -2 degrees I'm told! You definitely do NOT need a million layers. Several of the group had to come out and take stuff off, missing valuable lesson time. One proper base layer and a proper ski jacket is enough! I also wore a base layer under my ski trousers. Gloves and helmets are compulsory and helmet hire is free at the centre. Allow plenty of time to get yourself sorted out before your lesson starts. Quite often you may have to change your boots over and you can get quite hot and bothered with all the ski gear on whilst trying to get your equipment sorted out, so don't add time pressure to this one!! Another tip is to plan your journey. Travelling by train was good, if you’re not local like me. I had a choice of M25 in rush hour on a Friday both ways, over an hour’s drive on a clear day, or two 25 minute train journeys with an underground trip on the northern line to Euston in between. This is a total no brainer for me, as my trains go into London Bridge which is on the northern line. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to be sat on a train with a cup of tea and a biscuit, listening to music and picking up the day’s messages and emails, rather than stuck in a load of traffic, clearly visible from my train seat, feeling tired (which you will after this kind of intense day). My third tip is to  "think positive"!  From the second I stepped my scary self out onto that snow I wanted to get to the top. If anyone said "there is no way you’re getting me up there" I immediately replied “of course you will, that’s what we are aiming for!!" and quite a few of us did! Lastly, if you’re like me and you hang onto summer by keeping your wooden bead and leather ankle bracelets on then take these off before you put on your ski boots, otherwise ouch!! Ski boots and ankle chains do not mix!!

I was delighted to leave my beginner course signed off at level 3 and ready to go on the main slope next time I go to the centre, which I plan to do before I leave for Morzine! Thank you David, you really have helped me so much! And thanks to the wonderful group of people I met that day! I loved spending the day with you all, and good luck to you all on your trips to the mountains!! Oh and Jane - you've got this girl ;)

Nina x

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Nina is a documentary photographer and mum of 3 boys based in Bexley Village.