As you probably know, the Winter Olympics 2014 takes place in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony is live on BBC2 today (7 February) at 3.30pm. If the Games inspire you, it’s possible to train as a Winter Olympian right here in London and the surrounding counties. Here’s where to slip, slide and ski your way through the main events.
Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding
Alpine skiing is supposed to be experienced in the mountains. Unfortunately, London isn’t surrounded by mountains: the city has a big river, some minor species of hills, and the occasional snow flurry. But this doesn’t mean you can’t go skiing, freestyling or even apres-ski partying with just a short journey. You can find slopes on the Ski Club Great Britain’s website. The list is divided by county. The nearest, right at the south-east corner of London, is the Bromley Ski & Snowboard Centre. It’s open every day of the week and offers lessons for both ski and snowboard.
Snowboarders are also catered for at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, which offers an indoor ski slope, jumps and private and group lessons on manufactured snow. Dukes Meadows in Chiswick also has a fascinating indoor ‘Skiplex’, which works like a treadmill for skiers. It can be rented on a half hourly basis and booked online, with instructors available should you need lessons. And there are plenty of other dry slopes dotted around the commuter belt. Beckton Alps are definitely a no-no.
If you’re looking for some fun after training/sport, then head to Snozone in Milton Keynes, north of London. This multi-function skiing centre caters well for all levels, as well as skiers with disabilities, plus there’s a cinema and bowling.
Of course, when it does snow, there’s always Primrose Hill.
Finally, if you love the idea of the sport but are unable or unwilling to take part, you can always visit the annual Ski and Snowboard Show in Earl’s Court.
Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and small bore rifle shooting from 50 metres. The best place to find out more is the British Biathlon Union. However, the use of firearms means that participation is restricted to those with full training and licence, and most biathletes are members of the armed forces. It’s very much a minority sport, with the BBU admitting that its office is ‘a spare bedroom in the Sec Gen’s house…we admit this is not an acceptable way to run an Olympic sport!’.
So the nearest you’re likely to get is some kind of multi-part race like the London Duathlon in Richmond Park. This run-bike-run event taking place on 14 September 2014. Ticketing is already open, and you can choose among different challenges and prices.
Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton
Bobsleigh and luge are…fun! At the Winter Olympics they take the disciplines very seriously — and very fast. They also require significant infrastructure so, needless to say, you won’t find a track near London. However, you can try street luge. It works on the same principle as its icy cousin, but you do it on the road. The main option nearby is Oxford Stunt Factory. It usually organises runs on private roads in the Cotswolds and offers occasional taster days. Full leathers and luge provided.
One way to do the luge in the city centre is to try a vodka luge — a gimmicky ice sculpture designed to dispense shots into a waiting glass…or mouth. As this is best done as a team sport, it could be likened to the bobsleigh.
Skeleton is like luge, but belly-down. In England, the national British Skeleton association is based in Bath (not so far from London). There’s no luge or skeleton track in the UK, but at Chatham Ski Centre you can try Toboggan Run & Sno-Tubing, perhaps the nearest experience to the real thing.
Cross-country skiing is usually carried out on snow and is very popular in Nordic countries. Unfortunately, much of London is flat and only receives occasional snow, and therefore isn’t conducive to traditional formats of this sport. However, there is a solution – roller skiing. This involves skiing around London parks using what amounts to elongated roller blades and poles. The attraction of this unique sport is that it offers a low-impact, full body workout and very sociable. Rollerski.co.uk provides one-day to four-week courses in Hyde Park and Windsor, with all equipment supplied. The London Region Nordic Ski Club is also open to new members and sends out a monthly email keeping you up to speed on its roller skiing sessions around London. Otherwise, you can easily teach yourself, especially if you have roller-bladed before. RMA Sports and Euroski supply all the equipment you need, such as skis, boots and poles.
Another option could be Nordic Walking. That is, walking in the countryside or suburban parkland with sticks, taking long strides to train your arms and your legs. London offers a wide choice of Nordic Walking activities.
Much mocked for its resemblance to frenetic floor swabbing, curling is a team sport, invented in Scotland. The most authentic curling centre near London is the Tunbridge Wells curling ice rink in Kent. Here, all the secrets of the broom will be disclosed. If you’re still not convinced, try reading about the benefits of curling (a fitness article from NHS). The Social Experiences Club goes further: its idea of play curling is directed at team-building events, company retreats and so on.
Figure Skating and Speed Skating
Picturesque outdoors rinks can be found during the Christmas period at iconic London venues such as the National History Museum and The Tower of London. However, these only operate for a few weeks, are fairly small and crowded and will certainly not suit aspiring Torvill and Deans. Instead, head to much larger indoor ice rinks such as Alexandra Palace, Lee Valley Ice Centre and the Queen’s Ice and Bowl in Bayswater, open all year. Those interested in speed skating can try the Aldwych Speed Skating Club in Guildford.
A bunch of people skating like crazy on an ice rink with shoulder and leg pads, following a small round disk a little bit bigger then a draughtsman? Yes, that’s ice hockey, which is well known by everyone — fewer know that this sport was popularised in North America by British soldiers. The large indoor rink of Alexandra Palace offers both tickets for attending an ice hockey match and training for local teams such as the London Legion and the London Rangers. The London Devils, meanwhile, are based at the Lee Valley Ice Centre in Leyton. Moving south, the Streatham Chief Ice Hockey Club trains at the new Streatham Ice Arena. More information can be found on the England Ice Hockey Association.
The ski jump is perhaps the most iconic event of the Winter games. Channel 4 got us in the mood with recent show ‘The Jump’, which let celebrities risk their legs by launching into the void. We can’t find any serious facilities near London. However, in 1950 a ski jump competition was held on Hampstead Heath. A team of 25 Norwegian skiers brought the snow with them — 45 tons of it, packed in wooden boxes insulated by dry ice. These days, your best bet might be Vauxhall bus station, whose roof looks eminently jumpable. The roof of the main tower on the Golden Lane estate also looks like a candidate.