I'm on a ski trip to London. To the site of the 2012 winter Olympics. To the shades of the Tower of London, the highest peak in the country. To the powder fields of Paddington and the couloirs off the Big Ben.
Dream on. But I am on a ski trip to London. It turns out that there is a tiny indoor ski hall in Hernel Hempstead, an hour's drive from the city. And I have two and half hours for a visit. Three if I show up late for the cocktail reception that I'm expected to attend on my business trip.
|Inside the Snow Center|
|The main slope|
The Snow Center
The ski hall is The Snow Center. It is a tiny place, the ski slope is only 160 meters long. Still, the slope is steeper than typical indoor slopes and as such, skiing here for a while is fun. The snow quality seemed also more interesting than in other places. They had a fair amount of loose snow on the slope, so it was not hard/icy as most other indoor slopes are. But I don't know if that is a typical condition for this place or if snow cat work just happened to be overdue.
I spent most of my time skiing a bumpy track that had formed in the snow. This was fun.
|The bumps track|
Lift tickets cost 29£ per two hours, for adults on weekends. However, unlike almost all other indoor ski places, The Snow Center has a reservation system. You are expected to make a reservation for a specific time on the slope. Coming without a reservation is possible, but in theory they might have filled the place to the maximum capacity and you'd be out of luck. When I made a visit on a weekday afternoon, the place was far from full, however. Your mileage may vary, particularly during weekends.
It takes 18 seconds to ski the main ski slope. Luckily, the ski lift is fast.
|Indoor weather forecast|
Squeezing Fun Into Business Trips
You can reach the Snow Center with public transport; use trains from London, and then take a short taxi ride to the center. However, I did not have time for that. I took a taxi straight from the airport to Hemel Hempstead, and also returned by taxi to London. The Snow Center has storage lockers for your luggage.
Funnily enough, the taxi driver from Hemel Hempstead was unable to find Paddington station in London, so we ended up going around the local traffic jams for an extra half an hour.
I often end up using taxis. In the western world this can be expensive. But if the alternative is not having any fun on a trip, maybe it is still a better option. I travel a lot, perhaps not every week but certainly every second week. If I work at the office, the days are from 9am to 5pm. But on a business trip the days tend to be filled with breakfast meetings, dinners, talking to interesting people, and after-hours preparations. Or an occasional coding session. Easily from 7am to 11pm. Don't get me wrong - I love my work. But I have also made a decision to arrange some fun on every trip. Even if it is just 45 minutes of skiing indoors.
|The Snow Center from the outside|
Skis and Arlines
They hate each other. The airlines really do not want luggage at all, let alone an extra bag. Or - gasp! - special luggage. And the skis would really rather stay with their owner, not lost on some airport for days or weeks.
There is a lot to complain. But I wanted to tell a story about my return trip, because, for once, the story is a happy one. As usual, I'm flying on a British Airways flight. And as usual, they occasionally demand extra payment for the skis. According to the rules I'm expected to pay. But this time they waived the cost. Mostly because I ended up talking to a nice ticket agent who believed the only skier to travel to London this summer needs his equipment. Thank you, Sue!
Being a One World frequent flier helps a bit, too. And I usually keep trying after an initial failure. I often try first with the check-in agent. Then their boss. Then the lounge desk. And on the gate. You'd be surprised how often this eventually succeeds.
London, the Video
Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko