The bright lights of Fawley refinery shine like stars in the night sky behind Calshot Activities Centre. But inside the centre’s Sunderland Hangar building, stars of a very different kind are dazzling visitors with their dry slope skills.
Following the Sochi Winter Olympics, there’s been a surge in the popularity of skiing and snowboarding thanks to the performance of British athletes.
The Olympic team’s inspirational efforts have translated into many new faces visiting dry slopes up and down the country and Calshot, with its 40m runs and efficient lift system, has seen its share of future Olympic hopefuls.
Calshot manager Dave Gunter has experienced firsthand the rapid growth in snow sports inspired by Sochi.
He says: ‘We’ve definitely seen an increase in visitors here both recreationally and in particular for the slope style nights with people trying to emulate Jenny Jones and Billy Morgan.
‘Billy comes down to the Calshot slope relatively often when he’s around because he’s a Southampton-born snowboarder.
‘We’ve also seen a big increase in the enquiries for people to come and learn to ski, but more so for snowboarding, especially for youngsters who want to learn to snowboard after the Olympics.
‘They’ve seen it and now they want to do it. When Jenny Jones won her medal we had more bookings over night online than usual because of that – Sochi is certainly inspirational.’
Team GB Olympic snowboarder Billy honed his skills at Calshot before shooting to international fame and Dave thinks that access to snowsports centres is important for developing the slope style stars of the future.
‘Access to facilities like Calshot is key. There are lots of people who perhaps could progress in the sport if they work hard, but if they are not in the right place with the right facility relatively close by they’re going to struggle to achieve that.
‘People will regularly travel an hour, hour-and-a-half to come to Calshot to use the facilities here because they are all fairly unique.’
Calshot features three slopes covered in Snowflex, a soft carpet-like material that simulates snow.
Dave explains: ‘Snowflex is easy to ski on and it has a spongy feel to it, so if you fall it isn’t too hard on you. A lot of dry ski slopes still have a Dendex surface which has big triangular holes and you can catch thumbs and fingers in those, but we don’t and we’ve found that has increased safety for people.
‘The slope we’ve got is very suitable for people who are early on in their snowboarding and skiing life. We do lots of classes for children and improvers. When people have got the basics they can come and use the slope recreationally and on a couple of nights a week we have lots of jumps and rails that get put out. It’s a bit of a play park to practice slopestyle and tricks on.’
The centre also benefits from a vibrant community of riders and skiers.
Dave says: ‘There’s certainly a strong sense of community here on the recreational and slopestyle nights. People get the basics and then they teach each other.
‘They show each other new tricks to try to progress. Once or twice a year we also have competitions. It’s always a good atmosphere, we have a bit of music and try to recreate events like Sochi or the X-Games.
‘I’m sure there are snowboarders and skiers at Calshot who are hoping to compete at an Olympic level and there are a number of youngsters who are coming down who already have sponsorship.
‘Calshot is an important first step for people looking to progress in snowboarding and skiing because it’s attainable. It’s not so big that it puts people off and because it’s got a community of people from youngsters through to more mature riders they look after each other and guide each other, so it’s a good stepping stone.
‘We’ve got young people who come through and develop and then seven or eight years later they come back and pass their knowledge on.’
WHERE: Calshot Spit, Fawley, Southampton, Hampshire SO45 1BR
WHEN: Mondays 7pm-9.45pm: Mini Slope Style night (until April 14)
Wednesdays 7pm-9.45pm: Slope Style night
CALL: (023) 8089 2077
ADMISSION: Adults £11, Concessions £9.80, Under 18s £8.80.
*Three different indoor slopes.
*Snowflex covering which is easy to ride on and softer than normal dry slopes when you fall over.
*Variety of rails, ramps and boxes to practice your freestyle skills on.
*Classes available in skiing and snowboarding for complete beginners to develop your skills.
*Fully licensed bar on site for relaxing after an energetic session.