The last day of the school holidays is usually a dreary one for us. Not so this winter. We were invited to spend a festive day at the Snozone, Milton Keynes, which prompted a huge amount of excitement as it would be the first time ever our children skiied (and if you want to skip the reading and just watch a video of our day, there’s one at the end of this post).
The Snozone has two locations: in Castleford, Yorkshire, and in Milton Keynes, just off the M1, making it accessible both to Londoners (like us) and people living further north. Both are located inside the Xscape leisure complex, which as well as the Snozone includes a cinema, shops, restaurants and a bowling alley.
Snozone Milton Keynes has a main slope of 170 m, with two poma lifts to carry people to the top, and a lesson slope for beginners and learners.
The whole area is covered with 1700 tonnes of fresh snow. Stepping through the double doors, into what was essentially an enormous freezer kept at -5 degrees, was hardly your regular day out in the UK, and prompted lots of squeals from the children.
The Snozone was bustling when we arrived. The last weekend of the Christmas holidays is one of their busiest of the year, and with a capacity of 350 per hour, from 9am until 11pm, several thousand would have passed through its doors on the day we went.
Although the Snozone felt busy, and we did have to queue at times (eg on the ski lifts), there was a relaxed, friendly atmosphere inside the centre. Hugh Michell, Snozone’s Operations support manager, explained that staff are selected for personality as well as ski/snowboarding skill. And the workers did seem incredibly cheery. There was none of the ‘too-cool-for-school’ attitude you get in some of the ski resorts – everyone at the centre seemed down-to-earth.
Snozone instructors range from those with level 1 qualification, right up to experts like Hugh. His teaching qualifications include working with disabled children; one of his favourite students was a girl with downs syndrome. After a few sessions she grew so fond of Hugh that she wouldn’t let anyone else teach her to ski.
Salopettes (waterproof trousers) and ski jackets are available to hire, helmets come as standard, and you can buy gloves if you need them (it’s really important to wear proper ski gloves. It’s chilly out there!). There are no family changing rooms but we used the cubicles. They’re the size of a regular swimming pool cubicle, so a little cosy if there’s more than one of you, but you can always use the open-plan changing area through the loos if you want to spread out.
Our first activity of the day was family sledging, which is £17.99 for adults, and £14.99 for children.
We were joined on the slopes by Michael Hepburn, Snozone’s photographer. You’re only allowed to photograph or video on the slopes on one afternoon a week, but you can arrange for Michael to join you and take snaps. I’d recommend it, if you don’t mind paying. He captured some fantastic shots that would have been difficult for me to take, unless I decided to miss out on some of the skiing and sledging.
Both children started out nervously sitting on our laps, but branched out to using their own sledges. The sledging session was great fun, and helped build the children’s confidence for the skiing later, because they got used to slipping around on the snow, and found out that it doesn’t hurt when you fall.
We were given lunch in the Snozone restaurant (there’s also a bar upstairs – the centre is open until 11pm during Winter). The choices ranged from breakfast dishes (pancakes – yum), burgers and the standard range of kiddie’s dishes, to more healthy options like salads. They all seemed reasonably priced, ranging in price between around £4-£8. I went for a chicken stir fry, which I was pleased with. It was hearty and flavoursome, and helped warm me up after the sledging. The children had fish dippers and chicken goujons, and we had the usual response from the kids: Austin wolfed his down, while Gwen picked at hers. D chose a veggie burger, which came with fries.
The restaurant has a panoramic view of the slopes, and a small soft play area, which our two raced off to play in.
Family ski lesson
And then came the bit we’d all been waiting for. Snozone had invited us to take a family lesson, and as this was the children’s first time skiing ever, I was curious to see what they’d make of it.
Boots, skis and snowboards are included in the cost of a lesson, which varies depending on how many of you there are, the age of the learners, and the number of people in the group. Children can start learning to ski in private lessons or in the Snozone SnoAcademy, from as young as three (like our Gwen, who will be four in March), and to snowboard from the age of seven. An hour-long lesson for a child from 3-15 who’s a complete beginner, with one-to-one tuition, is £64.99, and if you add a second child it’s £102.99; the SnoAcademy is cheaper.
The first thing I learned when I put on my boots, was that they’ve changed since I last skiied seven years ago. Thankfully the Snozone staff helped bring us into the new ski century, and also made sure the children’s boots were properly adjusted.
And then, it was time to hit the slopes.
Austin, Gwen and I were taken onto the learner slope by Stephen, our instructor, who was great with the kids over the hour of our lesson. The learner slope was separate from the main slope, which D belted over to, so that he could brush up on his technique. He said that most people on his slope were learner or intermediate skiiers, although there were a handful of people who clearly knew their stuff. Our slope was divided into two halves, with snowboarders at the top; most people were in group lessons, and little Gwen was the youngest by far.
I felt very proud of my little girl that day. I wasn’t sure how well she’d take to skiing, but she grew more confident and excited as the day wore on. Stephen, our instructor, and Hugh with his warm greeting, were mainly to thank for putting her at ease, and helping her pick up some new skills.
Before we went, I’d had no doubt that Austin would enjoy skiing, and I was right. Not only did he like zipping down as fast as he could (Stephen tried to teach him the snowplough, but he just didn’t want to be slowed down); he also liked the headgear.
‘I look like a ninja’ he said, when he saw this action shot.
D enjoyed getting his skis back on after a long break. Although, for proficient skiiers, the Snozone is probably best suited to those wanting to focus on technique rather than have a good run down long slopes (which are only really available on mountains), this visit was a good opportunity for him to shake off some of the rust that had gathered over the last seven years.
And me? Well, with Stephen’s help I just about managed to get back to where I left off: snowplough turns, with the occasional tumble, and a hankering to progress onto parallels.
By the end of our time at the Snozone, we were all shattered (in a good way). I would recommend an indoor session on the snow to any families that lived nearby, and were wondering whether their children would enjoy a ski holiday. The Snozone was also good for getting our children (and us adults) used to all the gear, and how it feels to slip around on the ice. If I lived closer I’d also consider booking one of the Snozone’s birthday parties. There were a couple of birthday groups out with us while we were sledging, and it looked as though they were having a smashing time.
I’ve made a little video of our day. Do let me know if you like it.
If you’re considering a trip to somewhere like the Snozone, there are some handy tips in our post on what to expect at an indoor ski centre.
We were invited to spend a day at the Snozone for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.