Skiing is becoming an increasingly popular sport across the world. With access to skiable mountain terrain limited for many people, the demand for artificial skiing alternatives is increasing.
There are multiple types of artificial skiing options trying to serve this demand. The most realistic of them all, is indoor skiing.
This article is a comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about skiing on real snow indoors.
What Is Indoor Skiing?
Indoor skiing refers to artificial ski slopes that are created inside a temperature-controlled building.
Indoor ski slopes are able to use real snow, since they are built within a temperature controlled setting. This means that indoor skiing is the closest artificial alternative to the mountain.
With mountains or real snow no longer required, indoor ski slopes can be built in almost any environment. This has led to indoor skiing becoming increasingly popular.
Many modern indoor ski slopes now cover huge amounts of ground, offer multiple slopes and even include chairlifts.
The Progression Of Indoor Ski Slopes
Realistic artificial skiing alternatives have been on the radar of many ski enthusiasts since the 1920’s.
The Schneepalast (Vienna, Austria) was the first indoor ski slope ever invented. However, we would need to wait for over 60 years until indoor skiing (as we know it today) was truly developed.
Although a hotly debated topic, the first modern real snow indoor skiing facility is widely believed to be Mt TheBarton Snow & Ice, Adelaide (Australia).
Mt TheBarton indoor ski slope was opened in 1988. Featuring a 120m main slope covered in 200 tonnes of real snow. It served as the most authentic artificial skiing alternative in existence.
With the temperatures in Adelaide reaching 29 degrees Celsius during the summer, Mt TheBarton proved that real snow skiing was possible in previously unimaginable climates.
Mt TheBarton was a pioneer for indoor skiing. However, its success was short lived.
In 2005, Mt TheBarton’s indoor skiing officially closed due to high running costs. It was later converted into an ice rink (Ice ArenA), which still exists today.
With the technology now being a proven success, the popularity and global reach of indoor skiing quickly increased.
In 1988, indoor ski slopes also opened in Belgium (Skipiste Casablanca, Antwerp) and Japan (Ski In Tsudanuma, Tokyo). However, both of these slopes suffered a similar fate to Mt TheBarton; closing in 2009 and 1995 respectively.
Indoor skiing continued to grow over the subsequent decades, despite the limited success of the first indoor ski slopes.
More than 20 countries have already built indoor ski slopes, thanks to technological advances and a growing demand for accessible skiing
With companies always looking to build ‘bigger and better’ facilities, indoor ski slopes have also greatly increased in size.
The famous Ski Dubai (Dubai, UAE) proved to be another huge step forward for the indoor ski industry. Built in 2005, it features five ski slopes of varying difficulty. The longest slope is 400m!
Ski Dubai brought indoor skiing to the attention of the world. This was due to its sheer size and the tropical desert climate associated with Dubai.The average temperature in Dubai can get up to 36 degrees, making it a unique destination for skiers. Click To Tweet
However, even with these credentials, Ski Dubai now currently sits third on the list of the worlds biggest indoor ski slopes.
The current record holder for the biggest indoor ski slope is the Harbin Wanda Indoor Ski And Winter Sports Resort (Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China).
Covering an area of 80,000 square meters, it houses; 6 ski slopes (3km of skiable terrain), 2 chairlifts and 2 magic carpets. The longest ski slope is around 500 meters in length.
How Do Indoor Ski Slopes Work?
Indoor ski centres can simply be compared to a giant fridge. However, in order to produce a functioning indoor ski slope, there are many obstacles to overcome!
Here we will take a general look at how indoor skiing venues operate.
Unlike with the snow you will find on the mountain, indoor ski snow is produced artificially. This is achieved with a process that is often also seen in mountain resorts that require more snow.
The snow is created inside the ski slope area using snow ‘cannons’ or ‘guns’.
Snow cannons are machines that work using a high-powered fan to blow clouds of tiny water droplets into the air above the slope.
With the water droplets in the air, they then proceed to turn into snow crystals. The weight of the now frozen droplets causes them to fall from the sky, landing on the slope.
The process of artificial snowmaking is usually completed at around -6C.
The snow crystals that make up artificial snow are usually found in clouds. These crystals usually then turn into snow flakes as they fall through the sky, due to extra water vapour attaching to them.
With the snow being produced only a few meters above the surface of the indoor slope, the snow crystals never develop into snowflakes.
Maintaining the snow is another aspect of indoor skiing that is just as important as snow creation.
Once the snow is created, the task shifts to keeping it in the best shape possible. This means that the snow temperature and condition needs to be monitored closely.
In order to stop the snow from melting, an underfloor cooling system is used under the surface of the slope.
Underfloor cooling is achieved using pipes under the surface of the slope. These pipes pump a cold liquid anti-freeze solution underneath the snow.
This underfloor cooling keeps the snow cold enough to stop any melting. With the snow cooled from below, it also removes the necessity to keep the air temperature uncomfortably low.
Indoor ski slopes will usually have an air temperature of around -2C.
Maintaining The Slope
Just like mountain ski resorts, indoor slopes also require grooming.
Indoor ski slopes are usually groomed every night. This means that the snow stays in great, consistent condition each day.
Due to the underfloor cooling system, the snow is never allowed to melt. This means that in order to maintain snow quality, old snow is regularly removed.
Once the old snow is removed, the new snow is then created. This keeps the amount (and quality) of the snow consistent.
Where Is Indoor Skiing Popular?
Indoor ski slopes are becoming increasingly popular, with the number of slopes increasing dramatically since they were first developed.
There are now more than 70 indoor ski slopes worldwide, spanning 6 continents.
- This information is correct as of July 2020.
- This graph is based on indoor real snow ski slopes. These are all slopes offering genuine skiable terrain and are purposely built for downhill snowsports.
- Outside of this graph, there are also many countries that currently have only one slope. These include: USA, India, France, Norway, New Zealand, Spain, UAE, South Korea, Lithuania, Brazil and Indonesia.
China is the country with the most indoor ski slopes in the world. They have built a huge amount of indoor skiing facilities, putting them a long way ahead of every other country.
The Chinese government are currently looking to greatly increase snowsport participation in China. This is largely due to their hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
With both the Chinese government and private companies looking to increase the accessibility of winter sports across China, they have dramatically increased the amount of ski infrastructure within the country.
China is actively building a greater number of mountain resorts, improving transport links to ski areas and developing artificial ski alternatives.
These artificial ski alternatives include dry ski slopes, ski simulators and (of course) indoor skiing.
China is currently home to 29 indoor ski slopes. This is the largest amount held by any nation. They also currently have another three under construction.
China is also home to the worlds largest indoor ski centre, located in Harbin (Heilongjiang, China).
However, they aim to beat their own record soon. They are currently planning a slope in Shanghai with a ski area spanning 90,000 square meters!The term ‘bigger is better’ has certainly been the thinking when creating their indoor ski infrastructure. Click To Tweet
Over recent years, it has become synonymous with skiers across the world. It offers powder snow, polite people, delicious food and a fascinating culture.
However, what many people don’t know is that Japan has the second most indoor ski slopes in the world.
Japan is a country where skiing is an extremely popular sport. This means that they have a great ‘ski economy’ and a demand for year-round skiing.
Japan currently houses 13 indoor ski slopes. This puts them comfortably into second place and is a large number for a country with many easily accessible ski resorts.
However, indoor skiing in Japan has started to see a decline in recent years. Lack of interest has forced the closure of multiple facilities. This is undoubtedly due to the combination of high running costs and easy to reach mountains.
Netherlands, UK and Germany
When it comes to skiing destinations, these three countries are not always at the top of everyone’s list. However, they all have a very high number of skiers within their populations.
These three countries are all very similar in what drives them to indoor skiing; a big skiing population, with not enough skiable terrain to accommodate demand.
The Netherlands is a country that has no natural ski resorts. However, they are truly a nation that loves to ski. This makes artificial skiing extremely popular.
The Netherlands currently has 7 indoor ski slopes, the 3rd most in the world.
They also have some of the highest numbers of both dry ski slopes and ski simulators in the world as well!
Similar to the Netherlands, the UK is another nation of avid skiers. However, they also lack the terrain to sustain their skiing desires.
Natural skiing is very limited in the UK. Located in Scotland, the ski areas are comparatively small and can have unpredictable weather conditions.
This love of skiing and lack of terrain makes the UK an economy where indoor skiing can thrive.
With 6 indoor ski slopes, the UK comes 4th in the world. However, they also have 3 more indoor ski slopes planned in the near future.
The UK also houses the most dry ski slopes in the world, firmly showing their commitment to artificial skiing!
Germany is another country with a big population of skiers. In fact, a 2019 survey concluded Germany had the highest number of active skiers in Europe.
Germany does have more skiable terrain than the UK (and of course the Netherlands). However, it proves not enough to satisfy the demand they have for skiing.
Germany is home to 5 indoor ski centres, which is the 5th most in the world.
If you are looking for the longest slope in the world, you will need to head to the Alpincenter Bottrop. Based in Central Germany, it boasts a main slope that is 640 meters in length!
Rest Of The World
Indoor ski slopes are becoming increasingly popular across the world. This is especially true in countries where snow is not naturally available.
This has led to indoor skiing being made available in countries with unusual skiing climates. This has increased the popularity of skiing in countries that previously had no history of winter sports.
Various countries across the world currently have additional indoor centres planned. Future slopes are set to open in countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, South Africa, Australia and more.
Why Has Indoor Skiing Become Popular?
Indoor skiing has increased greatly in popularity over recent decades. The amount of indoor ski slopes continues to climb, with many more planned in the upcoming years.
There are multiple reasons why indoor skiing continues to grow. Here we will take a look at what continues to drive this increase.
Skiing In Any Climate
Indoor skiing has proved to be increasingly popular as a means to bring skiing to areas where it would never be naturally possible.
This was the intention of indoor ski slopes from the very beginning. The first indoor centre was built in Adelaide (Australia), bringing skiing to an area more famous for its high temperatures and exceptional beaches.
The invention of indoor skiing has led to many countries embracing skiing that previously had very little experience of snowsports.
Indoor skiing opens the possibilities of skiing to every country in the world. Skiing was previously considered a sport for the few. However, indoor skiing aims to make it a sport for the many.
Skiing On Any Terrain
Before indoor skiing was invented, a natural slope has always been needed in order to ski.
The most popular form of artificial skiing prior to 1988 was dry slope skiing. Although possible in any temperature, suitable terrain is still required.
When indoor skiing came along, it proved that natural sloping terrain is no longer a necessity to ski. Ski centres were able to construct their own sloping surface.
This meant that not only could ski slopes be built in traditionally flat land countries, but also in flat land areas.
The ability to build artificial sloping surfaces brought indoor skiing closer to the cities. They could now be built in areas of high population, or in locations with the best transport links.
This accessibility is another factor that has made indoor skiing become a mainstay of the ski industry.
Another climate related benefit of indoor skiing is the possibility to ski all year.
Outdoor climate does not affect indoor skiing. This makes it possible to ski during the summer, something that has always driven the development of artificial skiing alternatives.
The ability to ski during the summer has led to multiple countries, which already have accessible skiing, embracing indoor skiing.
Indoor ski slopes provide a great option for holiday skiers to maintain their skill levels during the summer. In turn, this provides more job opportunities for ski instructors looking for summer work.
In recent years, indoor skiing has become increasingly popular with winter athletes. The increased size of modern indoor ski slopes has now given them the required terrain to complete their summer training indoors.
AccessibilityIndoor slopes have made skiing more accessible for many people. Click To Tweet
Previously, many people would have needed to travel abroad to have their first skiing experience. This means that new skiers need to make a big commitment when they decide to try skiing for the first time.
Easy to access indoor slopes allow new skiers to try skiing for the first time without a big commitment. It also allows them to learn the basics before heading to the mountain.
The first day skiing can be a challenging one for anyone. However, the controlled environment of the indoor slope can make your first experiences easier.
Skiing On Real Snow
There are multiple different types of artificial skiing available. However, indoor skiing is the only mountain alternative that can offer real snow.
Indoor skiing has found great success due to it’s ability to offer real snow. This means that visiting an indoor slope offers the most realistic training environment away from the mountain.
Not only do indoor slopes offer real snow, they also share many characteristics of a mountain resort. These include ski lifts, equipment hire and use, temperature, general ski etiquette and more.
Although artificial ski alternatives use the same technique as the snow, they still require an adaptation period. However, indoor skiing has no such issue.
What’s Indoor Skiing Like?
Indoor skiing has seen tremendous growth due to its similarities with mountain skiing. This is mainly based around the fact that it’s the only artificial skiing alternative that offers real snow.
Although indoor skiing provides a great alternative to the mountains, it does have some distinct differences.
Let’s take a look at some of the main aspects of indoor skiing:
Although indoor ski slopes offer ‘real snow’, you can still expect some slight differences when compared to the snow you will find in resort.
The snow used in indoor ski slopes is made artificially. Although extremely similar to mountain snow, artificial slow is formed from crystals, rather than flakes.
When you ski on artificial snow, you will find it has a consistency closer to sugar. This is especially true towards then end of the day, when many skiers have tracked the slope.
If the snow is in ‘sugary’ condition, it can make certain aspects of skiing more challenging. This is especially true for anyone working to improve a more advanced technique, such as carving.
However, skiing is about being able to perform your technique in all conditions. With the mountain being an ever-changing environment, honing your skills at the indoor slope will certainly translate to improved skiing when you reach the ski resort.
Indoor slopes across the world vary greatly in size and terrain. However, the majority of indoor centres will offer two or three slopes.
The average length of an indoor ski slope is around 150 meters. It’s common to see one main slope, accompanied by one or two beginner areas.
The majority of indoor ski slope skiers are still in the beginning stages of their ski journey. This is due to the (often) gentle terrain, slope location and a desire to learn the basics before arriving in resort.
However, with indoor ski centres growing in size, the slope facilities have also improved. Many of the larger indoor ski centres now offer beginner, intermediate and ‘expert’ slopes.
It’s also a common sight to find terrain parks. Freestyle skiing is a great option for indoor slopes, with the limited slope length not an issue for skiers who are happy to run ‘park laps’ all day.
Although the size of indoor centres has grown in recent years, the slopes are still comparatively short. The shorter slope length makes indoor skiing popular with beginners, who only require a short slopes to perfect the basics of skiing.
However, especially in the larger indoor centres, there are slopes that cater for all ability levels. This even includes athletes, who are now regularly using them as off-season training bases.
Indoor skiing can be an extremely fun and worthwhile experience.
Indoor skiing popularity generally follows a similar seasonal pattern to the Northern Hemisphere. This means that you can expect the quietest months to be between April-October.
During the middle of the season, you can expect to find most indoor slopes to be busy. This means that there might be many people on a slope that has limited space.
If you are an advanced skier, this can be a problem if you are looking to ski at speed or use the full width of the slope.
However, indoor ski slopes are generally well managed. They are aware of how many skiers they can accommodate on any given day.
Lift lines are usually short, meaning that you can complete many laps during a session.
If you are taking ski lessons, you can expect your session to be very teaching focussed. The limited and consistent terrain proves to be an excellent place to focus on acquiring a new skill.
Temperature is another area where indoor ski slopes are similar to their mountain counterparts.
When you are skiing indoors, you can expect temperatures of around -2C. If you are used to mountain resorts, this is a temperature that you might class as ‘mild’.
However, -2C can feel a lot colder than you expect. Due to the lack of sunlight, it can feel like a lower temperature than you imagined!
Furthermore, the underfloor cooling system is often running about -6C. Since this is underneath the snow, you can often expect to get cold feet!
However, if you are wearing your appropriate ski attire, you should not expect any surprises. Unlike the mountain, indoor ski conditions are completely consistent.Don’t expect any blizzard conditions inside the ski centre. Click To Tweet
The Pros And Cons Of Indoor Skiing
- It’s similar to the mountain. Indoor ski slopes provide the only ‘real snow’ artificial alternative to resort skiing. This means that you will get the most realistic training and learning environment away from the mountain.
- It’s accessible. Indoor skiing brings ski slopes to many areas (and countries!) without any nearby skiing options. This opens up skiing to many different places where people had no previous opportunities to participate.
- Year-round skiing. Unlike the seasonal nature of traditional ski areas, indoor skiing is completely consistent. If you are looking to ski in the summer, indoor skiing has become an excellent option for many people who want to improve and maintain their skills throughout the off-season.
- You can learn the basics before your ski trip. The ability to learn the basics of skiing before arriving on your first ski holiday is something that attracts visitors to indoor ski centres across the world. Completing the challenges of your first day skiing at the indoor slope can often allow you to bypass the beginner slope when you arrive for your ski holiday!
- You can try skiing before committing to a holiday. This is another big selling point for indoor slopes. With the high costs associated with a ski holiday, it’s certainly worth making sure you enjoy it before you head for the hills!
- It’s easy to organise. If you have skied previously, you will know the hassle it can take to organise transport, accommodation, lift passes, equipment hire, ski lessons etc. However, when you go indoor skiing; everything is found in one place.
- Comparatively small ski area. Although indoor ski centres continue to increase in size, they still have a long way to go if they want to catch up with mountain resorts.
- Limited options for advanced skiers. Indoor ski slopes usually have very consistent and ‘gentle’ terrain. This means that slopes do not offer much variety, which can sometimes leave advanced level skiers feeling bored.
- It’s not the mountain. Although indoor skiing provides an excellent alternative to ski resorts, it’s not possible to replicate all aspects of mountain skiing. Indoor slopes are lacking the scenery, views, fresh air and freedom that are associated with traditional skiing.
- Prices can sometimes be high. Although much cheaper than booking a ski holiday, one day skiing can still cost a reasonable amount at most indoor ski slopes. When you include lift pass, equipment rental and lesson costs (among other things); it doesn’t always add up to a budget friendly day out.
Although it’s not always as glamorous as the mountain, indoor skiing has become a huge part of the ski industry.
Indoor skiing offers huge benefits to the ski industry. It continues to bring skiing to places where it has never before been possible.
Since indoor skiing began, the reach of the sport we love has increased to encompass many regions that previously had little to no experience of how great snowsports can be.
Making skiing a more inclusive sport is something that can only benefit the industry. It provides jobs, increases participation in sport, creates new communities and showcases just how brilliant skiing can be to a greater audience.
What are your thoughts on indoor ski slopes? Are they a positive addition to the ski industry? Leave a comment and let us know.
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.