Throughout the world, many nations have a huge love for skiing – but no snow or mountains in sight. There are also many people with an appetite to ski for 365 days per year, regardless of the temperature.
There are many different types off ‘non-snow’ skiing trying to fill this void – one of them is dry slope skiing.
What Is Dry Slope Skiing?
Dry slopes are outdoor, manmade ski runs that are built onto a hill.
Dry ski slopes are made from an artificial material that allows the skis to slide. This means snow is no longer necessary. With the snow no longer required, a dry ski slope can be placed on any hill or mountain and at any temperature.
Most dry ski slopes average around 150m in length (based on UK slopes). However, new dry slope ski areas are being made to improve on this skiing all the time.
The longest dry ski slope is currently in Veduchi, Russia. It is a tremendous 1130 meters in length!
The History Of Dry Slope Skiing
Dry slope skiing has been something of a dream for many avid skiers since the 19th century, when the sport of skiing was growing in popularity. Even since these early days of skiing for ‘sport or pleasure’, making skiing a year-round sport is sure to have been the wish of many.
That wish took a big leap forward in 1927, with the opening of the first ever artificial ski slope. The Schneepalast indoor dry ski slope in Vienna (Austria) was a 70m long wooden slope that was built inside an abandoned train station.
The Schneepalast used mats to cover the wooden base with a thin layer of an unknown yellow substance on top, acting as ‘fake snow’.
Unfortunately, the ‘fake snow’ substance caused ski irritation and was unable to sufficiently cover the mats; causing a whole host of injuries. This (along with crushing debt and unsustainable popularity) led to the downfall of The Shneepalast in 1928, after only 1 year of operation.
Following this first attempt at dry slope skiing in Vienna, a handful of other slopes opened and closed over the following decades with a host of different surfaces used.
These included a small slope inside a London department store, a slope made from sand covered with pine needles in France and a slope made from crushed plastic waste product in the USA.
Throughout the 1950’s many different ideas for a dry ski slope surface were tested and patented, but none materialised.
Finally, in 1960’s, dry slope skiing as we know it was born.
Manufacturer Osborn started to produce a bristle-like mat, which was then used to open the first permanent dry ski slope in Torquay (UK).Torquay Alpine Ski Club is still in operation today and remains the oldest operating dry ski slope in the world. Click To Tweet
Once dry slope skiing had been brought to Torquay, it was then rolled out across the rest of the UK – and the world.
The 1960’s brought new dry ski slopes in France, Belgium and The Netherlands – as well as subsequent slopes in the UK.
In the years to come, the UK housed more than 100 dry ski slopes at its peak. Slopes were also built further afield, popping up in Asia, North America and South America.
These days dry ski slopes have declined in some nations, though popularity has increased in others. With the focus now seemingly on creating the longest possible dry ski slope, a crown which has been held by slopes in Japan, Serbia and now Russia since 2016.
What Are Modern Dry Ski Slopes Made From?
Dry ski slopes will almost always compose of plastic bristles sticking upwards.
“I have often referred to it as a ‘giant toothbrush’ when teaching kids.”
The most common dry slope material you will see (especially in the UK) is called Dendix.
Osborn have manufactured Dendix in the UK since 1961, making it one of the founding elements of dry slope skiing as we know it.
The mat appears in a hexagonal pattern – with the holes allowing for reduced friction.
Dendix dry ski slopes will usually be fully covered by a sprinkler system. Keeping the slope wet will help to reduce friction – leading to a much better skiing experience.
Another dry ski slope developer, Neveplast, has also come on to the scene more recently. Founded in Italy in 1998, they provide a ski mat with small circular holes, which aim to completely cool the heat generated by friction. This means there is no need to add additional water to the slope.
Neveplast have a range of different surface types for different activities. These include nordic skiing, drifting, snow tubing, alpine skiing/snowboarding and more.
Neveplast currently hold the record for the longest ski slope in the world; the previously mentioned Veduchi dry ski slope in the Caucasus region of Russia. The Veduchi slope is 1.13km in length, using Neveplast technology.
Neveplast have also produced multiple other exciting dry ski projects; including a pump track for SBX Olympic gold medalist Michela Moioli; a slope on top of a waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen and many more.
Proslope are another noteworthy name who are striving to improve the quality of dry slope skiing.
Launched in 2012, UK based Proslope have become another player in the dry ski slope industry. Proslope are pushing for a resurgence in dry ski slopes following a recent decline in dry ski slope attendance due to indoor ‘snowdomes’.
Proslope are now pushing to keep the artificial ski industry leaning towards outdoor dry ski slopes. They claim to use new technology, which is extra shock absorbent, forgiving, durable and easy to replace.
Snowtrax in Dorset (UK) is one slope that has had success using Proslope’s artificial surface. After acquiring Proslope, they are now looking to double the amount of UK slopes using Proslope. With the aim of dramatically increasing the amount of people learning to ski or snowboard on outdoor dry ski slopes.
Another manufacturer producing artificial ski slope surfaces is Snowflex.
Launched in 1996, UK based manufacturer Snowflex have approximately 250 snowsports projects already completed – and with more on the horizon, they are starting to prove their expertise.
Snowflex offer an extremely flexible dry slope surface, which has become particularly popular with terrain parks and undulated surfaces (moguls!).
Many other companies are also making their own brand of dry ski slope, with notable inclusions being Mr Snow, Playgrass, Innova-Ski, JF Ski Mat, Pole-Snow, Skitech and Skitrax.
Where Is Dry Slope Skiing Popular?
With skiing becoming an increasingly popular sport across the globe, the demand for access to ski slopes is increasing. This is especially true in countries that have little to no reliable snow of their own.
The graph below shows the amount of outdoor dry ski slopes per country across the globe:
Additionally, there are many countries that have only one outdoor dry ski slope available; including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Switzerland, Turkey, South Korea and others.
When looking at this data, you can see that the UK and China are a long way ahead of other nations – followed by the Netherlands.
The UK has a huge population of motivated skiers, but limited access to real snow. The only real snow can be found in Scottish resorts, which tend to be small and do not always offer the best weather conditions.
With people usually only able to travel to ski resorts for one or two weeks per year, dry ski slopes fill the void left by the mountains.
Artificial slopes provide skiing within reasonable driving distance of most homes in the UK. This makes skiing accessible and affordable for the majority of UK households, allowing for a huge rise in the amount of UK based skiers during the later part of the 20th century.
Many Great British Winter Olympic and World Cup athletes began their careers on dry ski slopes, showing the relevance that dry slope skiing has on the professional stage today.
With a growing ‘middle class’ who have an appetite for ‘middle class holidays’, China is becoming a huge player in the ski industry.
This has also been proven by their successful campaign to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Chinese government (and privately run ‘state-backed’ companies) have started to invest heavily in skiing and the infrastructure that goes along with it.
Not only has China improved and grown their current natural ski resorts and mountains, they have also put huge resources into building artificial ski slopes.
With an increasing number of dry ski slopes, snow domes and ski ‘infinity slopes’ being built; the number of skiers in China is continuing to grow.
Similar to the UK, the Netherlands is a nation of skiers without a mountainous region inside their borders.
With an appetite for skiing that is almost as big as any other European nation, they have always looked to make skiing more accessible to supply the demand.
Following in the footsteps of The UK, they built their first dry ski slope in 1969 and have been increasing their number of artificial ski slopes ever since. However, growth has slowed since the fairly recent introduction of ski slope simulators, many of which are produced in the Netherlands.
Why Did Dry Slope Skiing Become So Popular?
Dry slope skiing developed during the second half of the 20th century to accommodate for the huge number of keen skiers who didn’t have easy access to the snow. With the rise of dry ski slopes, the ski market was opened up to a huge amount of people who previously had no easy access to skiing.
Without the need for mountains or snow, dry slope skiing also allowed for year-round skiing. This made it possible for the general public to enjoy the sport they love during the hotter months, athletes to train without the snow and more summer work for ski instructors.
Dry ski slopes also provide a great place for people to learn the basics of skiing before embarking on their first ski holiday. It allows people to try skiing for the first time before making a holiday commitment, while also allowing them to learn the basics before they arrive in the resort.
Dry slope skiing hit an all time high towards the end of the 20th century, but the progress has levelled out slightly since then, mainly due to the ease/availability of foreign travel and the rise of other mountain alternatives – such as indoor ski centres (which can offer real snow).
However, dry slope skiing continues to be a mainstay of the ski industry in the present day.
What’s It Like To Ski On A Dry Ski Slope?
Dry ski slopes certainly have a different feel to the snow. However, with technological improvements they seem to be getting closer to the real thing.
For The Beginner
Dry ski slopes provide a great entry point to skiing. Having little or no prior experience on snow means that you will have no adaptation problem to the slope…however, you will have to adapt to the snow if you make a ski trip.
However, one observation that I have seen many times, is that the gradient of the main dry slope can be fairly steep for the learner. This means that although you might be able to learn the very basics on a shallow ‘beginner’ slope, you will be expected to complete your turns on a slope that is steeper than the average ski resort beginner slope.
That being said, the dry ski slope is definitely an excellent place to start your skiing journey and will provide more than enough to help you on your way to skiing proficiency.
For Anyone More Advanced
For anyone already parallel skiing, the difference of the surface becomes more pronounced. It can certainly take an adjustment period if you have only ever skied on snow.
The main difference centres around the ability to carve and gain edge grip. A common problem here is the inability to find a progressive edge angle – with the ski wanting to either skid or hold a firm grip.
Excellent technique is required to ski with a rounded turn shape. This is even more the case on the dry slope. However, when the correct amount of pressure is found, it is possible to create rounded, gripping turns.
It’s common to see dry ski slopes for slalom skiing, commonly amongst kids. However, they also provide a great training aid for professional athletes who want to continue training during the summer.
The Pros And Cons Of Dry Slope Skiing
It’s more accessible for many people who cannot easily travel to mountain resorts. This is especially great if you do not have access to real snow in your home country, allowing you to ski without making the commitment of travelling abroad.
You can learn the basics before arriving at the ski resort. Beginning your ski journey at the dry ski slope will allow you to learn the basics in an environment close to home, helping you to start from a higher level once you arrive at the mountain resort.
It’s cheaper than learning to ski in the resort. This includes both the lower cost of travel, reduced hourly rate for lessons and cheaper equipment hire.
It allows you to ski during the summer. This is brilliant for people that want to improve their technique, learn the basics in preparation for their winter holiday, practice racing during the off season or for people who just love skiing whatever the weather.
The technique used is the same as on the snow – especially during the beginning stages (sliding to plough turns). This means that you can take the skills and apply them directly on to the snow.
The slopes are usually less crowded than mountain resorts. This means that you have plenty of space to improve your technique without worrying about other skiers. Also, it means shorter lift lines – more time skiing, less time waiting!
You need less equipment. With the weather usually being warmer than on the mountain, it’s likely that you will need less equipment. This is particularly useful for beginners, as you will be able to try skiing without committing to the purchase of expensive ski gear.
It can hurt when you fall over. With no ‘fluffy’ snow underneath you, impact can be a little bit tough. The texture of the surface can also cause ‘carpet burn’ if you leave any skin exposed. Many dry ski slope surfaces are constructed with ‘small holes’ – so you need to be careful not to catch your thumb in these!
The feeling is different to the snow – especially for more advanced skiers. If you have learned on the dry ski slope from the beginning, you will find that it takes a short adjustment period to adapt to the snow – although the technique used will be the same. If you can already ski on snow, adapting to an artificial ski slope can take some practice – as you will find some key variables are slightly different.
You do not have the ski resort atmosphere. This statement might sound superficial, but ski holidays are not just about the skiing. Learning in a ski resort can be a brilliant in-resort experience; when you factor in après ski, meeting other skiers, eating foreign cuisine and more.
Limited skiing for advanced/expert skiers. While artificial ski slopes are getting longer and incorporating more varied terrain (such as mogul runs and terrain parks), there is only so much you can do without the snow. Many dry ski slopes are basic slopes offering little other than a short blue run.
What To Wear On The Dry Ski Slope
It’s unlikely you will need too many layers for dry slope skiing – the reason you are there is that it’s too warm for snow! However; the more layers you have, the more padding you have to protect you during a fall.
“Make sure you don’t have any skin showing to protect you from ‘carpet burn’ if you take a tumble.”
Remember: it’s always better to wear too many layers. It’s always easier to take layers off than it is to find more to put on!
Waterproof jacket (or ‘shell) is definitely essential, as most dry ski slopes are kept moist or are watered by sprinklers. This will help keep you warm and dry.
Like with all types of skiing; ski socks and gloves are both essential. Gloves are especially important on the dry ski slope, as they will protect your hands from the ‘carpet burn’ effect that can be caused by falling on the artificial surface.
Once you arrive at the dry ski centre, you should be able to rent skis, boots, poles and a helmet – if you don’t already have your own.
Dry slope skiing is a long tradition, dating back almost 100 years. Over this time it has become a mainstay of the ski industry.
Dry ski slopes are also an essential part of the skiing world, allowing many people to access the sport who previously may have been unable to do so previously.
With artificial ski slope technology continually increasing, I believe dry slope skiing will continue to grow in the future and bring more and more participants into the sport we all love.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.