It is four years since the first snow fell on the indoor slopes at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead and it has rapidly become established as a popular destination for recreational skiing and snowboarding.
The closest real snow to London, The Snow Centre prides itself on offering the ‘best snowsports instruction this side of the Alps’ with a highly qualified team of instructors.
But it is not just about mainstream teaching – the centre is also home to Snowbility, a provider of snow sports coaching for additional needs, which has recently been recognised by the National Autistic Society for its impressive results with children and adults.
Richard Fetherston, who joined The Snow Centre soon after it opened as an instructor and duty manager, is the driving force behind Snowbility, which was established in October 2011 to make a difference through snowsports to individuals with additional needs.
Richard’s students have a variety of needs such as autism, dyspraxia, deafness or rehabilitation challenges and he and his fellow instructors are achieving dramatic results not just in improving and developing their physical skills but in their social skills, confidence and ability to communicate.
“My hobby is skiing,” said Richard. “My work is motivating and inspiring my students to achieve their potential through snow sports.”
Snowbility tailor each session specifically for each student – working with their parent, carer or school to understand their individual requirements.
The lessons take place at The Snow Centre alongside regular users of the slopes, and integrating the students with other skiers and snowboarders can be a real confidence boost.
“We work with the students to understand how they react, reading their non-verbal communication, ability to balance and relate to other users and reward and chart their progress,” Richard added.
Sometimes one-on-one sessions are combined with, or replaced by, family sessions depending on the needs of the student.
“Seeing a child empowered by their ability on skis to feel parity with their siblings is hugely rewarding,” Richard continued. “As they develop their confidence and enjoyment on the snow so it can help boost their self esteem and ability to relate to other people.
“My aim is to establish The Snow Centre as the primary centre for excellence for Snowbility and then encourage other real snow centres around the UK to offer a similar programme.
“We want to make a positive difference through snowsports to as many people as possible.” For more information about Snowbility visit www.snowbility.co.uk. For information about The Snow Centre including lessons and recreational snowsports for people of all ages and abilities visit www.thesnowcentre.com
> Watch Richard in action above, with 9-year-old Sonny who has a severe visual impairment.