WHEN Jenny Jones snowboarded her way to the podium in the slopestyle section of the Winter Olympics, the UK went mad for the sport.
Ski centres and snow domes throughout the country were suddenly inundated with people wanting to emanate the Bristolian bronze medallist. Some websites even crashed as the demand for appointments rose.
And Swadlincote Ski Centre was no different, as hordes of winter sport fans headed to its dry slopes to either dust off their skis and snowboards for a new season, or strap them on for the first time. I was one of the latter.
I have never given so much as a passing thought to skiing in the past – my knowledge of winter sports begins and ends with a keen interest in sledging.
So as I dressed in what I thought to be suitably ski-worthy clothing, I was rather excited to embark on my first lesson with Snowsport development officer Ryan Grewcock.
Ryan learned to ski at the centre when he was a teenager, as ‘there was nothing else to do in Swadlincote’. The sport quickly claimed his heart, and after training as an instructor, he headed out to Andorra to work on the slopes there.
After coming home, he worked his way up and returned to Swadlincote as head of the ski school. He is now a tutor for Snowsport England, so I thought I would be in good hands.
My experience started out rather shakily, though, as I was unable to strap up the ski boots. Once that little hiccup was out of the way, and I managed to walk robot-style to the nursery slope, the real fun started.
All novice skiers start out on this small slope, and they have to complete four stages of tuition before they can move on to what is known as ‘open practice’.
According to Ryan, it normally takes about four lessons for people to learn the skills they need to move to the big slope.
In my brief half-hour lesson, I made it to the first stage of level two, and with only a little bit of shrieking and arm flapping.
We started out by side-stepping, crab-style, up the slope, so I could have my first attempt at sliding back down again.
I had expected to feel the wind in my hair, but it was slightly more sedate.
Several more attempts saw me going slightly faster, and then whilst doing the moves to ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’.
Then I was allowed to have a go on the exhilarating drag lift, which took me all the way to the first landing spot. It wasn’t very high, but it was high enough to pick up some speed as I went down again, almost crashing into Mail photographer Simon Deacon as I went.
After that, I learned how to ‘snowplough’, which basically involves pushing out your heels and moving your toes together to cross the skis at the front and come to a stop. That resulted in a lot of flapping.
By the end of the short session, my legs felt as if I’d done several hours in the gym. The sturdy boots force you to stand in an unnatural position, and I, rather stupidly, kept trying to lift the heavy skis to walk, as shuffling in the correct style made me feel too much like a sulky teenager.
But I did enjoy it, and the fact I managed to remain upright throughout the tutorial will remain a source of great pride for some time to come.
Skiing on dry slopes is, apparently, the best way to develop skills, as the slower speeds magnify any errors and offer more opportunity to hone skills, Ryan said.
Two youngsters who train at the centre, Justin Taylor-Tipton, 13, and Bradley Fry, eight, have been proving the point, after being tipped by success as part of the England Development Squad.
Skiing, and its modern cousin snowboarding, are sports which have often been overlooked in the past, Ryan said. But that is changing – and the Olympics in Sochi are clearly playing a part in that.
“The interest in freestyle skiing and snowboarding is definitely growing. It’s the first time they have been in the Olympics, and we have got people competing at the top level around the world.
“That is gaining the sport a lot more interest across the UK,” he added.
A shift in attitude may also have contributed, the instructor believes. “In the past skiing was seen as a middle class sport, which people only did on holidays, but now it’s much more accessible as people can go to ski centres. You don’t need much money to do it.”
Like many businesses, Swadlincote Ski Centre went through a difficult time in the recession, but seems to be coming out of the other side.
Manager Kelly Grewcock said: “I think interest is increasing simply because of the fact people know it’s available. We are getting more calls, especially on snowboarding.”