In the UK, the coverage and popularity of winter sports never extended much beyond the weekly episode of Ski Sunday on BBC Two. But the surging popularity of UK flights to the likes of Chamonix in France means there are more people taking to the piste for skiing and snowboarding than ever before.
For anyone who’s considered taking up a winter sports pursuit, we’ve put together a guide to some of Europe’s leading destinations to whet the appetite – as well as some of the UK’s best-known training facilities for grasping the basics before you take off for your winter break.
French resort Val-d'Isère is nestled on the Italian border, in the Tarentaise Valley of the Alps, which provides the majority of Europe’s leading ski destinations. Val-d’Isère was one of the venues that hosted the Winter Olympics in 1992, and each year it continues to hold events in the Alpine Ski World Cup. Due to its competitive standards, the facilities are outstanding - with a range of slopes for both the beginner and the more discerning skier. Best of all, buying a lift ticket here grants you access to other nearby resorts, lending some diversity to daily descents.
If you need to get your form up to scratch before jetting off, the indoor ski slopes at Xscape – located in Milton Keynes and Castleford – will help you get some practice in, no matter the outdoor conditions.
Mayrhofen in south-west Austria is the location of the annual Snowbombing festival, which attracts a younger crowd to its mix of live music, DJ sets and snowboarding competitions – the 2016 event is due to be headlined by influential noise-makers, The Prodigy. The laidback feel of the festival also means there’s no chance of putting off inexperienced riders; just the opportunity to have fun, make friends and enjoy a diverse line-up of musical acts. And for those who have braved the Austrian peaks just to see the concerts, there are plenty of qualified riders on hand to provide lessons.
Many UK locations offer snowboarding lessons on indoor slopes. The Snowdome in Tamworth has a variety of freestyle sessions utilising kickers, boxes and rails for boarders to test their mettle before heading out to the wilder slopes.
The Chamonix Valley in south-east France is more commonly known for its skiing and boarding bounty thanks to neighbouring Mont Blanc, but there’s also something for visitors looking for even more thrills. There is a multitude of ice climbing courses available here, from introductory taster sessions to the full-on adrenaline rush of scaling some of the continent’s top frozen falls.
If you’re suitably inspired to take up some extreme ice climbing of your own, the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven is expected to re-open later this year - it holds the largest ice wall in the UK, which is sure to get you feeling inspired.
For an all-out assault on the slopes, nothing beats travelling down a man-made toboggan course at breath-taking speeds – the Zugspitze will do just the job. It’s the highest mountain in Germany, on the border with Austria, and, after some expansion, it now has a variety of different toboggan runs for all ages and experience levels. The Sonnenklar toboggan run is a particular highlight - it descends into the scenic White Valley.
Llandudno Ski and Snowboard Centre may not reach the same dizzying heights but is still a great place to start. With a 750m stretch of track it calls its own Cresta Run, plus the chance to go ‘tubing’ down the separate slopes on inflatables, it’s a real rush.
For a taste of one of the world’s most popular sports, you needn’t leave the UK – there’s a highly competitive pro ice hockey league here, with top teams including the Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers.
And it’s in Sheffield where we can recommend a course that’ll teach you the basics of the game – even as far as learning to skate in the style that’s needed for hockey. iceSheffield offers a number of courses for players of all ages to learn the skills needed to play a good game on the ice.