With winter on the way, Ski Club staff wanted to kickstart ski fitness levels ahead of the season, so we headed to test out the ski and snowboard facilities at Chel-ski in the heart of London 

When it comes to getting a snow-fix in the UK, there are a few options including Scottish ski resorts, dry slopes and snow domes. One of the lesser-known surfaces is the rotating faux-snow mat at Chel-ski, aptly named after its location in London’s borough of Chelsea – nowhere near any mountains at all. Ski Club's Sophie explains how it works...

Chel-Ski is London’s largest indoor ski centre and has two mechanical slopes measuring 9m by 5m, with remote-controlled adjustable incline and speed control. The slopes are made from nylon AstroTurf specifically designed for synthetic ski slopes, consisting of an extruded monofilament pile.

A lot of keen skiers will be familiar with the challenges of skiing on artificial surfaces. Dendix and Neveplast force your technique to improve due to their unforgiving nature and also throw up the risk of staving a finger if you catch it in a hole – Dendix thumb, anyone? But since the mountains aren’t quite within our reach in the UK, these surfaces provide a way to make our favourite winter hobby a summer one too. The plastic mat at Chel-ski is similar to very short artificial grass, but white, and the sensation is like a treadmill on skis. 

Freshtracks team members Julia and Jaz give snowboarding a bash

So what does it feel like on skis?

As an experienced skier, I have tried out Dendix and Neveplast before, but on a slope which is attached to the ground and not remote-controlled. The surface at Chel-ski is a whole different kettle of fish, and a brand-new adventure on skis. Firstly, the instructor helps skiers get acquainted with the sensation of moving by operating the mat at a low speed. There is a bar to help balance which is essential while you get accustomed to the surface.

Initially, the feeling is a little bit disorientating as your brain tries to make sense of what is going on. It sees the surface moving but you do not need to move because your body weight maintains your position on the mat. Once you are able to keep a steady speed, it’s time to explore the mat and use the space. Unlike skiing on snow, a snowplough will send you backwards at Chel-ski. We practised alternating between this unfamiliar movement and making our skis parallel to move down the slope again. After some time practising control, we were ready for turns.

The technique of turning is partially similar to real snow: by putting your weight on the outside ski, you turn one way or the other. The difference is that you stay in the same place on the mat. The difficulty comes when you want to parallel ski and keep the skis in line. On the Chel-ski mat, this is a lot harder because of how hard the surface is and the challenge of balancing. During our session, skiers quickly got the hang of turning and navigating side to side on the mat, but parallel turns were much harder. The instructors reassured Ski Club staff that it was unlikely that anyone would be able to parallel turn on their first try at Chel-Ski, but that didn’t stop everyone giving it a go... and falling lots in the process. 

The speed and inclination of the mat can be altered, and skiers and snowboarders practice in groups of two or three. If you fall over, the mat will be stopped instantly so you don’t need to worry about flying off the end, although sometimes you do go backwards faster than expected. The novelty of wearing leggings and a t-shirt instead of salopettes is great, but even in sportswear, it gets hot after only fifteen minutes.

Ski Club staff were delighted to see a familiar face amongst the instructors. Hamza Alkebida completed an internship at Ski Club in 2016 through the Snow-Camp programme and now works full time at Chel-ski. Snow-Camp helps young people gain employment in the snowsports industry by engaging them in the sport and providing life skills training. The tables were turned as Hamza schooled the team on best practice on the Chel-ski slope and helped everyone work on our technique.

Head of On-Snow Services, Owen Barks Chapman, and Partnerships Manager, James Connor, chase Chris Madoc-Jones

What about snowboards?

Daisy McAuliffe, Ski Club’s Marketing Assistant and most sendy snowboarder said:

“Snowboarders were told that it was much more technical and I would agree. It was like you were starting fresh, getting to grips with practising your heel and toe edge again. On a piste I can carve on a snowboard but I couldn’t fathom doing that at Chel-Ski. The good thing is that you really have to work on perfecting your stance. You have to be so precise with movements because if you slightly overbalance, you fall, whereas on the snow you can balance it out. I think that if you learned at Chel-ski you would find the transfer to snow easier, since it’s more forgiving.

One thing you don’t have to worry about it catching an edge because there are none. That’s the most painful part of snowboarding on a normal mountain and it certainly teaches you a lesson. That said, it is a thigh-burner because you are squatting constantly for each 15-minute session.

I didn’t expect snowboarding to be easy at Chel-ski, so it lived up to that assumption but it was fun and challenging at the same time. Our instructor Laquan Bacchus was great and it was awesome watching him turn up the speed and demonstrate what can be done on the board.

It took a whole intro session to get used to the sensation but once I got used to it, I was able to try other stuff. It’s fun to go back to basics and it’s a good way to improve your technique.”

Daisy alternated between balancing well and showcasing her best penguin dives

What if you’re not an expert skier?

Ski Club Head of Digital Namrata Tidy said:

“We went on in groups of similar ability which really helped, and the Chel-ski team set the speed and incline of the slope to suit our ability. The staff were really clear at explaining what to do and didn’t take us too far out of our comfort zone... unless we wanted to be! We each got two sessions on the slope and by the end of the first one I felt much more confident and comfortable with what to do. I could relax and enjoy it, so much so that I couldn't wait for the second go.

It doesn't feel exactly the same as skiing on snow. For one, if you stop on snow, there's no going backwards into the people behind you! But there's enough of the same technique for you to pick it up and a group size of just three at a time meant there was enough space for you to do your own thing and get into the groove. It was incredible seeing the Chel-ski team show off with the tricks at the end… I’m glad they didn't demonstrate at the start though.

I didn't really know what to expect before our session at Chel-Ski but I had a great time and can definitely see myself going back with a group of friends, both skiers and non-skiers.”

If you take a tumble at Chel-ski, your instructor will stop the mat straight away, so the only bruise will be to your ego...

Fitness classes on an urban mountain

If you are keen to brush up on your technique ahead of the season, Chel-ski host fitness classes called Fit-Ski, the only fitness class on skis in London. They say it is similar to spin on skis, the classes focus on getting you fit with basic ski skills for the slopes. It is not technical, but simply designed to help you strengthen your muscles and have fun on the ‘mountain’ with qualified personal trainers and ski coaches. You don’t need any previous ski experience and it’s a great way to maintain strength in your ski legs all year round. You don’t even need to wear salopettes.

Fit-ski sessions run for one hour and include a warm-up of squats, lunges and light bodyweight exercise off the slope, plus some resistance and light-weighted exercises focussing on the legs, core and upper body. Following that, you will spend the remainder of the time doing things you didn't think were possible on skis - testing your whole body strength and making sure your legs are prepped for the mountains all year round.

Chel-ski is a fun, safe and controlled environment where you can learn to ski or snowboard or well as advance your existing skills. With the speed and angle of the slopes adjusted to match your ability, you can tailor the experience to a level that suits you. And when you’ve finished on the slopes, you can relax and grab a drink or refreshments at the cosy Alpine Bar upstairs.

Find out more about Chel-ski here