I CAN’T think of a better activity to learn as a family in Scotland this winter than skiing.
However, heading straight out onto the weather-beaten hills seemed a little extreme for a trio of novices, so instead of driving north we go west to Snow Factor, Braehead. It’s an indoor snow resort where every evening, summer or winter, snow falls and a team of fairies create the perfect piste conditions for skiers, snowboarders and sledgers of all abilities.
Having very little previous experience (do a few lessons at school over a quarter of a century ago count?) we don’t know where to begin. We have anoraks and salopettes, but it’s possible to rent these and all the other equipment you might need when you arrive, apart from gloves, which you have to bring or buy. This, I later realise, must be due to runny noses. Have you ever tried to get a hanky out of your pocket with ski gloves on?
As we check-in the chap behind the counter explains where everything is and points us towards a smart machine which determines our shoe size, height and weight (I’m relieved that it doesn’t display this for all to see). There are lockers (£1) in which to stash our bags and then it’s over to another counter to collect skis and boots. We meet instructor Chris and pick up helmets on our way to the slope.
As we enter the arena it’s not just the cold that takes my breath away, but the size of the main slope; at 205 meters long it resembles an indoor Everest. Thankfully, we begin our lesson on a flat area with Chris showing us the basics; how to attach and detach the skis and how to glide forwards using one ski at a time. This is all done at a comfortable pace for our eight-year-old, Orla, and she finds the experience similar to riding a scooter. Clearly we’re not in a position to be let loose on the main slope, so we spend our lesson on a nursery slope, climbing and descending at increasing heights and slowly mastering the snow plough.
There’s an increased effort to stay upright when a class of under-fives arrive wearing yellow helmets and looking like the army of minions from Despicable Me – no way can we be shown up by pre-schoolers. Big Daddy seems to be hindered by his higher centre of gravity and there are a few tumbles worthy of You’ve Been Framed, but the only thing that wiped the smiles off our faces was getting cold teeth as the air temperature is kept at -5. Still, plenty of layers and the effort involved meant we worked up a sweat.
The end of our lesson came all too quickly, though the 90 minutes did seem long enough for Orla’s first experience. We left the slope with a real sense of accomplishment and no broken bones. Chris gave us each a Record of Achievement and explained that we’d completed level 1, only three more until we can be let loose alone on the main slope.
For apres ski there’s Bavarian-themed bar and restaurant, Bar Varia, which has a great view over the main slope and plenty of dishes to satiate a well-earned appetite.
Snow Factor, Xscape, Kings Inch Road, Braehead, Renfrew, tel: 0871 222 5672, www.snowfactor.com; a 60-minute family lesson for up to four people costs £89, a 90-minute lesson for up to six people is £128.