The powder room

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The Independent Online
You don't even need to venture outside if you want your children to learn how to ski. At the Tamworth SnowDome, you can slide around on a carpet that's whiter than snow and possibly a little more powdery, as Brigid McConville found out.

The venue

Despite the name it's not a dome, and, technically, it's not natural snow either - but who cares? This is still the only place in Britain where you can ski on cold white powder all the year round. At this time of year it is packed with families getting a bit of practice before taking off for skiing holidays, so if you want a lesson make sure you book well in advance.

There is a row tow on one side of the slope, and on the other a travelator, which is like an escalator without steps. The snow slope is 150m long and 30m wide, which means you can get a decent run from the top, or take the tow rope half-way up for a more sedate descent. The grooming machine comes out four times daily to keep icy patches to a minimum.

As part of a big, modern leisure complex, SnowDome has all the romance of a skating rink; no natural light, constant Muzak and fruit machines in the bar/cafe. On the other hand, the artificial environment of the ski slope means no biting winds, a constant temperature of 2-4 degrees centigrade and near perfect snow conditions.

The visitors

Brigid McConville, a freelance journalist, took her children Maeve, 12, and Arthur, nine, to SnowDome in Tamworth, where they had a skiing lesson.

Arthur: When I started off I thought that it was a bit tricky and I wasn't really enjoying it. It was quite hard, and I kept sliding downhill. The back of my skis would go wonky, which made me fall over, and I thought, "I can't do this." But that was because I wasn't bending my knees, and when I got the hang of it and learnt to snow-plough it was really cool.

Then we got to go on the rope tow and that was fun, although I didn't think it would go so fast. I learnt to do loads of turns, and now and then I fell over. Sometimes I got my skis crossed going downhill, and I didn't know where they were. Falling didn't really hurt because it was quite soft snow. It looked like flour.

Sometimes I'm really determined, and when Maeve zoomed past me I really wanted to do that too, but I realised I would need more lessons first. I was trying my hardest and after a while I was quite good at it, and I got better and better.

When I went really fast I didn't know what to do; my legs were in the wrong place and I crashed into the barrier at the bottom. One time I skied over the edge of a snow-board that had crashed - that was quite scary. I hurt my ear a bit because I slipped when I was on the rope tow and caught my ear on the rope.

Peter, our instructor, was nice, and the lesson was helpful as I'd never been on skis before - except once on a dry slope, which was easier.

By the end I could do a bit of turning to the left, but not to the right. I could snow-plough and I could go down a steep hill. I've got quite a long way to go to be a good skier, but I thought I was doing quite well for my age.

I wouldn't like to go too many times; it would get boring.

Maeve: I was very impressed when I saw the SnowDome; it looked really fun. The skiing lesson was a bit boring at first but I understand the instructor has to make sure you can do stops before you go to the top.

To start with we had to put on one ski and scoot around; then two skis and shuffle and turn circles. Then we stepped sideways up the slope, which was hard work, but it was fun going down again touching your head, shoulders, knees and toes.We had a really good teacher.

I wanted to get on to the tow rope but when I did I found it was pretty hard on your arms. It kept going down to the ground, and I had to try to pull it up. Once I slipped off, which hurt my legs, and I couldn't get out of the way of the person behind me, which was pretty scary. But I didn't fall down once.

I'd already learnt to turn on a ski slope in Scotland, but I learnt to do a bit more and got to go quite fast - though not too fast, as I don't like being out of control.

It's good that there were snow-boarders there as well - mostly teenagers wearing strange hats - because it's something different.

The snow was very, very realistic. It was snow, wasn't it? I'd definitely like to go again, every week, although I'd settle for every month.

The deal

SnowDome is at Tamworth Leisure Island, River Drive, Tamworth, Staffs. For details about sessions ring SnowDome reception on 01827 67905, or call 0990 000011 for lesson bookings (it is best to call several weeks in advance).

Prices range from pounds 14 (adult) and pounds 9 (junior) for one hour's ski/snow- board session mid-week, to pounds 18 (adult) and pounds 12 (junior) at weekends. Group ski lessons cost up to pounds 20 (adult) and pounds 14 (junior) whereas snow-board lessons cost pounds 22 (adult) and pounds 17.50 (junior). Private lessons are also available.

How to get there: by train go to Tamworth station; taxis from the station to the SnowDome cost about pounds 2. Or, by car, take the exit from M42 on Junction 10, the SnowDome is just off the A5. There is ample free parking.