With new renovations and developments taking place all the time, Adam Halstead took some time out during the Snowsport South racing event to talk to Ffyona Speed about plans for the slope and the Snowtrax centre as a whole.
“We are constantly developing the slope, even though we operate it all the time and we’re currently in the latest scheme of renovations with the taster slope” Chris tells me. “A big chunk of our business is kids and beginner lessons, and for many years we’ve just had a taster area with no drag lift. But as you can see we’ve got the digger down there and two little travelators have been put in to help parents get the kids up the slope because half the hassle was parents had to be there to carry the kids back up the slope again, so the travelators really help. In terms of the slope, we have a constant regeneration of the matts, renewing them and changing them when it’s needed and we’ve had pro slope down for just over five years now and as a result we’ve definitely seen an increase in the uptake of sports with having that surface, compared to the old Dendex matting. The matting has been a big selling point and we do see people’s progression coming along a lot quicker. Unfortunately we don’t have much space to build more without starting to go sideways!”
When Chris was asked if people preferred to ski on pro slope compared to Dendex or other surfaces he responded saying, “Yes, absolutely, especially for those on the snowboarding side of things too because there’s a cushioning layer of about an inch underlay, so it’s a little bit softer if you fall or crash. But on the injury side we’ve cut that by 80% which is really good and we don’t get the old dendex thumb injuries as much anymore! But overall we’re pleased with how things have developed over the last five years and I think the users of the slope are too.”
Because of the change in the surface of the slope, this also means a different set of equipment to go with it. I was curious to know if this made any difference to course setting in contrast to how it would be done for a Dendex slope. “I guess it’s more of a challenge because of where the fixings need to be as they have to be pre-made and then pre-set, so we have about three or four courses out there at any time. We’ve had to experiment with what works and so far we’ve found the latest fixings seem to be the best. There’s basically a plate underneath the matting with a screw fitting so the pole fits onto it as opposed to the Dendex ones with the plate you have to hit under the matting. Both types are still quite versatile, but we have to have little temporary plastic fittings, just in case there’s damage or something happens to the main ones.”
It was interesting to find out if the changes that had been made to the slope had encouraged more people to partake in more snow based sports for the long term, rather than just as a one off. “When we changed the matting to pro slope, we doubled the amount of lessons we were doing in the years after. From the snowboard side of things, we’ve had a 25% uplift as well as in ski too which gives the impression more people are getting into the sports and staying there. We’re also retaining more people as they come along and can buy a lift pass for the year meaning they can come along and do recreation sessions and events like coffee mornings and evening groups. It’s started to become more social, so it’s not all just about skiing or snowboarding. The other thing that’s been big for us is freestyle which has just exploded over the last few years and the Snowtrax Race Club have been very good with that by mixing it up and doing a little bit of racing, freestyle and snowboarding and that’s helped us as a centre as they come along and help out by having a go at other things. They’ve also joined in with competitions we run, where we get around eighty competitors or so. We’ve also seen a big increase for youngsters taking part so we try to accommodate that, by creating under 12 categories because we see the need for it. In November last year, we saw a lot of youngsters come in so we gave them their own competition with smaller features and their own area, just something for them to keep them encouraged as it can sometimes be a bit daunting out there when you see all the adults. So it’s another way to keep them interested.”
What did Adam think had made people want to continue to use the facilities and if it had anything to do with the slope putting money back into renovations or whether it was because the slope offers the opportunities people want? He said, “I think it’s a combination of both. We listen a lot to what customers say and what they want from the slope. Whenever we do a new piece of work or a renovation, we do see in an increase in revenue. For example, we’ve just revamped the bar area and changed it quite a bit. We can deal with a lot more functions now and people notice things like that. It’s also made it a nice area and that has encouraged people to come back and use the facilities we offer. We are always trying new things to see if we can encourage more people to use it, but as you know some things work and some things don’t.”
The final question to Adam was what he thought was the best feature of the slope. He replied with “That’s a tough one! I think the developments, such as with the freestyle side of things are great, such as moving away from heavy equipment and replacing it with aluminium so it’s much easier for one person to move things around the slope. So there’s that, but I still think it all comes back to the core beginner lessons and getting people into the sports. People tend to learn before Christmas and February so we see a big uplift then and that’s a big chunk of business as that’s what lots of centres were built for. But at the end of the day, racing, freestyle and other sports are the end pathway where people end up after they’ve learned, so I think our best feature is probably being able to get more people into the different sports whilst still encouraging those who want to stick around, which is what we’re aiming for!”
Ffyona Speed was talking with Adam Halstead at Snowtrax near Christchurch. For more information on the slope go to www.snowtrax.eu