Travel: It's down the pub for the apres-ski

Kevin Pilley ventures on to the slopes at Val d'Ogden, England's most unlikely ski resort
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The Independent Travel
I RANG Moss Farm Nurseries for a snow report. "We've had a smidgen. No more than that, I'm afraid," said the gentleman manning the Yorkshire snowline. "Andrew's been out on his snowboard but frankly I wouldn't bother until later in the week. But keep ringing. That's the way to find out. You don't want to get all the way up here and find the piste isn't open."

Moss Farm is in the middle of nowhere. It's way up in the hills above Halifax and Keighley, past Sowerby Bridge and on up towards Studley Pike and Ovendon wind farm. It specialises in mail-order conifers, sunken gardens, patios and downhill skiing. It is also England's most unlikely ski resort. Admittedly, it is no Verbier. The resort closes for an hour every day for tea. But it is still attracts more salopettes than cloth caps.

"Landowners who are up against it have made diversification into a fine art," said Ralph Smith when I met him a week later. He owns the popular Another World ski complex in Ogden. You won't find it in any of the winter holiday brochures. For three months a year, snow permitting, his Christmas tree nursery becomes the playground for the ski set of the West Riding and Greater Manchester. "In winter there is nothing much to do except tinker with the machinery and then tinker with what you've just tinkered with," he said from his garage which doubles as his ski-hire shop. A colleague kitted me out in some boots and skis. If I didn't get on with those he had a squashed flat cardboard box which made a great sledge.

"We would never have thought of skiing if we all hadn't been mad keen skiers. Our back garden is a perfect piste. So we thought: why not open to the public? It's a gamble that, after a few poor seasons, seems to have paid off although we don't want too much snow or people won't be able to get up here!"

Val d'Ogden, as the Smith family calls it, opened in 1986 with 10 ski sets. It now has 100 sets, six pistes and 4km of cross-country tracks. No earth-moving was required and the biggest outlays were on fencing, a Snowcat tutor and the installation of tow-pulls and floodlit lighting. A one-day ski pass costs pounds 7.50 (pounds 6.50 for evenings) if you bring your own equipment. A full-day's Nordic skiing costs pounds 13. The centre boasts machine-cut tracks. There is one mogul and a half-pipe for snowboarders.

As many as 500 skiers use the slopes on a busy weekend. "We are 1,200 feet above sea level and it can be crazy up here sometimes," says Andrew Smith, 32, the resort's resident ski instructor. He has studied and passed his qualifying certificate at Aviemore and once came 17th in the British snowboarding championship.

"I have been known to ski in a half-frost. It's that bad. I've been brought up on skis. I can't get enough of it. What's wrong with your body?" he asks me as I snow-ploughed down his field, careering into a wall. "Keep your knees toward the slope."

The longest run at Ogden is 650 feet and the record for the most runs in a day is more than 300. The pistes of the Halifax Alps also have one mogul. A half-pipe has been constructed for snowboarders.

The slopes are just as popular with beginners as more advanced skiers such as Gill Whittell, who works in the coronary care department of St James's Hospital in Leeds. "It's nice to nip off after work. As a family we can't go abroad on a skiing holiday. So we have to make do here. It's much better than a dry slope and the gradients are gentle so you can ski with the kids on your back!"

Val d'Ogden has all the amenities: apres-ski, English style, all happens in pubs like the Goose and the Whole Hog, while accommodation is available down the road in the Golden Plough.

Moss Farm Nurseries Ski Centre and School (tel: 01422 2409011). Snowline (tel: 01422 245196).