The longest indoor ski slope in the UK recently opened at Xscape, in the Glasgow Braehead shopping complex. Perkin Warbeck went along to give it a go.
Question 1 How to pronounce it? I heard the receptionist say what sounded like zzzscape, so maybe it's not a simple ex-scape.
Question 2 Didn't the roof fall in as per all new Scottish buildings? I believe it did, but this hasn't delayed the opening of the £70m complex.
Question 3 What can you do there? Drink and dine, confer, shop, bowl (22 lanes), watch movies (12 screens), robocoaster (giant arm thingy that spins you round like a rollercoaster), fan drop (sky-dive simulator), skywalk, ski or board, climb the wall.
The robocoaster and fan drop weren't operating. The first five items bear no relation to TAC. So I shall confine my tour to skiing, climbing and skywalking.
Skywalking is that thing they now do to celebrities in programmes called The Fear Factor. You suspend someone utterly safely tens of metres up and get them to do a Parachute Regiment-type assault course. People with a head for heights swan through it. The others shriek. No appeal to a TAC-type audience, I would imagine.
So I have got it down to skiing and climbing - in neither of which was I able to indulge, I have to add. It so happens Xscape is five minutes from your correspondent's work in sunny Govan, so on your behalf I made two visits. Day one was the Wednesday before the official opening. I had a quick guided tour with the PR man for the launch, Martin Raymond. Like all good PR people he had those tiny black glasses.
What did I learn? Well, not enough really. It's the biggest indoor ski slope in the UK. But I knew that already. Apparently the biggest in the world is in Dubai, with chairlifts and the full range of runs up to black. Xscape Braehead is smaller than that (roughly half the length of run, quarter the number of skiers), but on first glimpse it is impressive. For an indoor structure the slope seems to recede a long way. On the other hand, I counted the stanchions on the poma tow: three. If Cairngorm had a tow with three stanchions, would it be used?
I was desperate to know if the heat extracted to create this vast snowslope was recycled in any way, but couldn't pin the PR man down on this. It would be profligate in this day and age if it wasn't. I have tried to find out if either Xscape or SkiDubai attempts to recycle the heat, but neither seems to treat this as important information. Hard to see what they would do with the heat in Dubai, but Braehead in winter is a different story.
Come the opening night, somewhat shamefaced, I am poncing about wearing a VIP badge. Am again impressed by the size of the ski slope. Enough for the boarder to grab a bit of air, although no one did a loop (I am sure that's not what they call it). Didn't recognise any VIPs, but then who would recognise me? I observe that the slope is not steep enough to practise ice-axe breaking. I grab my first ever free drink on TAC. (Hey, what about the 758 rounds I've bought over the years? At least half of those came out of funds kindly provided by TAC subscribers - Ed.)
I did a double-take at the prices: £21 for an hour's skiing. I had a full day on Cairngorm two weeks before for £26 - but then I did freeze to death on each drag lift. This raises a question. Will the three-stanchion poma be made to break down every so often even if it's actually reliable? And will the attendants be specially trained in surly behaviour? I should add that the 21 notes gets you all your gear, too.
It would certainly be a good place to learn to ski - or, for a boarder, to practise "grabbing air". For someone like me who likes extended cruising (Eh? - Ed.) down a groomed red with epic scenery and has no desire to improve beyond his current dodgy intermediate status, Xscape doesn't have much to offer. But, as is often pointed out, I am not typical. There are all sorts of variations in the pricing structure to be found on the website, http://www.xscape.co.uk/ Speaking of which, I found it very difficult to find the price of anything on the site, so perhaps part of the philosophy is to get you in the door, by which time you'll be committed to spending something. (As I write this, a colleague mails announcing that her son has just had an hour's tobogganing for £20. She seemed happy with that deal.)
Much is made of the 25-metre climbing wall, "one of the highest in the UK". At first glance it doesn't look very extensive, but I am told it has 24 auto-belays. This has got to be controversial. Surely part of the fun of climbing walls is that your partner belays you? And will everyone trust an auto-belay? (Well, maybe more than one's partner!)
The night wears on and I get a second free beer on TAC. There are already two other Xscapes (in Castleford and Milton Keynes), so one has to think the market research has all been done. Families will come for days out and buy some peace from the weans by sending them skiing; everyone will have a Ben and Jerry's and go home happy, Ma and Pa wearing brand-new Ellis Brigham skiing jackets which will be worn for shopping expeditions. If this sounds cynical, it's not meant to be. I suspect that those who want a real outdoor experience will continue to source that in the smoking zone that is the outdoors. With any luck, some of the indolent generation will get started at places like Xscape, but by and large it looks like mall entertainment. And nothing wrong with that.
Upcoming attractions: adventure golf and soccer circus. No data available.
As I leave, a chap is selling whistles for "only £1". As one who last put a whistle in my mouth 15 years ago as a (reluctant) hockey umpire, the appeal is beyond me. Which is probably why I am carping at the 21 quid.
Conditions as I walk back to my car (deviously parked at Sainsbury's to avoid the Xscape queues) are atrocious. Howling wind and pishing rain. An integral part of the Scottish ski experience. The slopes inside, by contrast, had been cool but tolerably so, and that's without me having burned any joules skiing. Of course the wind had been zero. And the bar had been 30 seconds from the slopes... Hey, I am almost talking myself into it...
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