Dry Slope Snowboarding

Monday, July 07 2003

On Friday, in the middle of a vastly important span of time when deadlines were (and still are) quickly approaching, the office network ceased to function. Very quickly it became apparent that there wasn’t much one could do off the network that was very productive, but we had no idea whether the network would come back up any second. All of our well laid plans of development servers and source control and migrations came to a halt as something as simple as a router stopped routing. I spent some time thinking about this scary dependency, but stopped the second one of the English blokes suggested we eat lunch at the dry ski slope.

I’d heard of this place (or a place like it) sometime before, probably on some local news time filler about the crazy Brits and their lack of real snow. I reasoned it was worth a look so I joined the party going there.

What you see is not what you expect. What I expected was a kind of Teflon grass, laying flat on the hill. Instead, it was a matrix of extremely dense tufts of one inch bristles sitting in a metal tray pointing straight up. The matrix was a diamond shaped grid, so the hill was perhaps only about 20% covered in bristles, although spread quite evenly. Every few diamonds a sunken water sprayer would spray out a fine mist, which was used to decrease the friction with boards or skis.

Charlie the Oracle guy and I decided to try it out, and within minutes I was strapping into a snowboard with my jeans and a T-shirt on in the middle of summer. Within seconds, I was admonished by a slope employee that I must wear long sleeves in case I fell. I could tell that falling would be completely unforgiving, and likely to break thumbs off due to the fact that for every square inch of bristle there were huge diamond shaped gaps of several square inches between and about an inch or two deep. Something would catch in a fall, and get snagged, be it an fist, thumb, elbow, ear, kneecap, you name it.

So rule number one: don’t fall. Rule number two took a bit of time to figure out. I’m used to snow, and it takes very little every, for me at least, to go slowly on snow with control (or fast for that matter). These bristles weren’t snow, and the moment after strapping in was crucial. Whenever I wasn’t moving quickly, I had barely any control. It wasn’t until I began to speed up that I felt comfortable.

It ended up that in order for me to get the bristles to feel the most like snow, I had to basically go has fast as humanly possible in a straight line down the steepest and longest run of 300 meters (with a few hundred feet drop). The run for me basically lasted about five seconds, and almost every time I don’t think made a single turn, but at least then I felt like I had the most control.

Overall, it was worth trying. I appreciate real snow, or even blown snow far more now. The effortlessness of turning will be something I will find very satisfying this next season. If I lived permanently in this part of England, it would be my only choice, and might even help accelerate my skills. It’s like some kung fu movie I saw where the teacher locked bricks to his students feet, and trained them as if they had no bricks. The second the bricks were removed, the students could kick holes through the Great Wall of China (promptly after turning evil kicking their teacher to pieces).