You've hauled out the salopettes from the cupboard but, let's fact it, you're rusty. A dry slope is the answer, writes Rupert Isaacson
The ski season is upon us again. All over the northern hemisphere people will be squeezing themselves into bright Lycra and setting off for the slopes. Many of the slightly rusty will spend the first few days of their expensive ski trip thumping down hard on their bums. Those who have never skiied before will also spend most of their holiday falling over and being patronised by Ray-Ban-wearing ski instructors on the nursery slopes. The cry will go up, as it always does: "Why were we not prepared?"

Preparing for the snow is hard to do if you're a Brit. Unless you happen to live near the Scottish ski resorts (where the snow is unreliable anyway), the only option is a dry slope. But for many the memories of theses places are painful. The plastic-brush stuff is unpleasant to fall on, leaving scrapes and burns. If you are taking a lesson, you often have to share the slope with hundreds of other terrified incompetents all bumping into each other and falling down on the narrow "piste". The equipment hire can be over-priced and the slope itself is always out in some dismal industrial suburb and usually takes hours to reach. But it doesn't have to be that way - at least not at the Bowles Outdoor Centre, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent. "Vere did you learn to ski like zat?" your instructor will ask, amazed at your style. "Tunbridge Wells, actually," you will reply as you execute a perfect parallel turn. Joking apart, this is dry-slope instruction without tears. It's also close to London.

Bowles Outdoor centre has nine full time instructors teaching either individually or in groups (maximum 12). It's designed for any budget and offers day or residential courses based at the centre's own B&B or bunkhouse. There are four levels of beginner training as well as "improver" courses for intermediate skiers. The mysteries of the parallel turn comprise one distinct course, after which you can attend the advanced sessions. Join up as a club member and you can attend informal coaching sessions to competition level. Bowles is also one of the few British ski centres that is fully equipped to train disabled skiers.

Should you find that you really want to take your Tunbridge Wells instructor with you you can. Bowles also organises ski course cum holidays in the French Alps and Colorado. No more hauling yourself up out of the snow for days on end, embarrassed and cursing the money you have spent making yourself feel foolish.

This time you can be prepared.

Rupert Isaacson is the author of The Action Guide to Britain (Harvill, pounds 12.99).

dry slope fact file

Basics

Bowles Outdoor Centre, Eridge Green, Tunbridge Wells TN3 9LW, (Tel: 01892 665665; fax: 01892 669556). A dry ski slope up north is the Sheffield Ski Village (Tel: 0114 2769459).

Season

Open all year except the last 2 weeks in August.

Accommodation

A lodge at the centre is due to open soon, which will have 8 double rooms (pounds 25 per person per night + VAT) and 8 single rooms (pounds 35 per night + VAT). 72 bunk beds are available in dormitories for groups only, full board included.

Food

Bar on site, meals provided for dormitory guests.

Disabled

Adapted equipment is available for skiers with disabilities. If someone wishes to learn to ski and is prevented by the nature of their disability from joining conventional courses, the centre will offer private tuition at the same price as a course. Lodge has full wheelchair access and a lift.

Children

Minimum age 9. Young people's ski courses and club sessions every Saturday afternoon from November to March. Children's birthday parties can be arranged.

Insurance

Clients are covered by the centre's insurance policy.

Safety

All instructors qualified in first aid.

Tariffs

Group sessions are 2 hours long and range from beginners' to advanced - 1 day, 5-hour beginner's course: pounds 50. Snowboarding instruction at beginning and intermediate levels is also available: pounds 30 per 2-hour session. Private ski or snowboard instruction: pounds 25 per hour for 1 person, pounds 11 for each additional person (max 4).

Special packages for youth, student and adult groups are available at all levels prices range from about pounds 250 for a weekend course to pounds 600 for five days.

Affiliations

English Ski Council, British Association of Ski Instructors, Artificial Slope Ski Instructors.

Booking

pounds 20 deposit required per person. Balance is due two months before start date. Although bookings are normally made in advance, late bookings are sometimes accepted.

Access

Off the A26 between London and Brighton, 5 miles south of Tunbridge. Trains and buses run from London to Tunbridge Wells. Pickups from station can be arranged.

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