The Netherlands: Take a peak inside
It may seem unlikely, but the low-lying Netherlands hosts some of the best indoor ski centres in Europe, says Patrick Thorne
Saturday 17 October 2009
Alifetime of collecting ski-area statistics has made me into a rather sad snowspotter, all too keen to bore anyone who'll listen about where the highest lifts are, or the most high-speed-detachable-six-seater-chairlifts. But the flipside of this obsession does throw up some more unusual facts. You won't have been able to avoid mention of Ski Dubai in recent years, but did you know that the world's largest indoor snow centre is rather closer to home? In the Netherlands, in fact: a country where one-fifth of the surface area lies below sea level.
It seems that the Dutch, like the Brits, are keen on their snow sports. So keen, indeed, that like us they installed huge numbers of artificial-surface slopes between the 1960s and the 1980s. Then, when the technology allowed, they swiftly adopted the concept of indoor snow.
And adopt it they have like no other nation. For despite having less than one-seventh of the UK's surface area, the Dutch have managed to erect eight indoor snow centres, two more than the UK.
This could be seen as over compensating for having a highest peak of only 323m but, whatever the reason, the Dutch do this well. The 520m-long main indoor slope of SnowWorld Landgraaf (just south of Limburg) is the only indoor ski area with an official International Ski Federation ranking. It also attracts the world's best boarders to compete in the World Cup Snowboard Parallel Slalom each October.
Organising a ski holiday to the Netherlands is surprisingly easy. SnowWorld Landgraaf has seven surrounding airports, all of which are within 90 minutes' drive – Brussels (International or Charleroi), Cologne, Dusseldorf, Weeze, Liege or Maastricht. Taking an early-evening flight from Gatwick to Dusseldorf, I found myself on the slopes at 9.30pm (the centre is open until 11pm daily and until midnight from October to March), less than four hours after leaving the UK.
Landgraaf is one of two centres operated by SnowWorld; the other is at Zoetermeer. Landgraaf has five indoor slopes to choose from and eight lifts (exactly the same as Aspen Mountain, I told the Dutch lift operator, who didn't even bother to feign interest).
Such is the popularity of the centre, attracting around one million visitors each year, that the centre now includes the world's only indoor six-seater chairlift. (Sorry, my snowspotter habits are hard to suppress.)
Many skiers and boarders scoff at indoor snow slopes, but the main slope at SnowWorld equates to a decent home run at many a conventional ski resort and has seen more international teams visit for off-season training than most regular resorts can claim. You can even break up your descent with a stop halfway down at the Almhut, described enthusiastically by my guide, Jeroen, as a "party bar in the heart of the Dutch Alps!"
"You won't experience the 'indoor' feeling here," he enthused. He was right: the Dutch are legendary for their après ski, and their reputation is underlined in the complex's off-slope bars, which stay open past 2am.
SnowWorld has been evolving into a complete resort over the past 18 months. A 100-room, four-star hotel linked to the complex opened last year, so I didn't have far to stagger to my bed. It has also added a lot of other activities besides to fill your day. There's an on-site fitness studio with sauna, a choice of bars and restaurants, and outdoor activities including Nordic walking and mountain biking. Next on the list is an indoor ice-climbing wall, and Europe's largest ropes course is due to open in the spring.
I was out on the slopes early in the morning, but the beginners were already having lessons on SnowWorld's two practice runs, while cool young locals were practising their tricks in the world's largest indoor fun park. Younger snow fans are cared for in Maoam Kinderland.
And the snow? The quality is absolutely excellent: just ask those international teams here for World Cup training ahead of the Olympics.
SnowWorld (00 31 79 3 202 202; snowworld.com) offers a choice of tickets, from an hour to a week long, largely comparable to prices in the Alps. Current specials include the Cheap Sunday pass for €19.50 (£18.26) from 7-11pm
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