Ski your summer away at Limburg’s Snow Valley
The largest indoor snow centre in the country may not be an Alpine resort, but it still brings some of the world’s best skiers, even in the off season
Beat the heat
It might be 25°C outside, but at Snow Valley in Peer, Limburg, it’s icy cold. Two rows of artificial Christmas trees flank the entrance, creating a faux-Alpine atmosphere complete with pristinely white pine needles and mountain vistas on the walls. This is Flanders’ ultimate winter wonderland.
Snow Valley welcomed its first winter sports enthusiasts in 1997, making it the oldest indoor ski slope in the country. It’s also the biggest, with four slopes spanning a total length of 420 metres – and an impressive extension well under way.
The complex is open year round, except for a short break in June. During winter holidays, the place sees close to 1,000 skiers a day, though summers are much quieter.
On a recent Sunday, some 20 skiers and one lonely snowboarder were making their way downhill. “Ski camps for children account for a large chunk of our summer activities,” Vanoirbeek says. “And then there are the die-hards, who just have to hit the slopes, no matter the season.”
Steepest in Europe
Snow Valley has about 30 instructors, five of whom work during the summer. On the slope, a little boy is practicing snowplough turns under the close supervision of his instructor.
Elsewhere, a group of skiers focus on technique, as they race down a bumpy stretch of the trail at breakneck speed. They’re dodging moguls, Vanoirbeek tells me. Moguls, in case you didn’t know, are bumps created in the snow.
Snow Valley’s biggest slope is 235 metres long; an extra 115 metres will be added in September, making it the longest and steepest indoor slope in Europe. The sharp decline will resemble that of real mountains, and you can follow the construction process through a live webcam feed.
There are the die-hards, who just have to hit the slopes, no matter the season
Those just starting out can make use of a beginner trail made up of two bunny slopes; it’s perfect for children and for adults first venturing into the world of skiing.
For seasoned shredders there is the Fun Park, a freestyle course filled with enough rails, jumps and boxes to scare off only but the most fearless of skiers and snowboarders. Not wanting to end up in the hospital, I decide to stay clear of it.
The snow here is obtained from a mix of chemicals. The resultant ice is then ground into powder. The process is patented, and the result feels just like the real deal. “You can even make perfect snowballs,” Vanoirbeek says enthusiastically.
A combination of ground- and air-cooling ensures that the snow doesn’t melt. It’s usually at least 2.5 metres thick but more has been added while the slope is being expanded.
Best in the game
Flanders may not be the obvious skiing destination, but Snow Valley attracts some of the best in the game. Professional Flemish snowboarder Seppe Smits honed his skills and trademark tricks here before winning medals at World Championships in Norway, Spain, South Korea and Canada.
The complex also has its own racing and freestyle teams and employs instructors with national and international titles. These include Eric Stappers, who won an Olympic medal when he was only 16 and now teaches slalom and mogul skiing.
Summer skiing may sound like an oddity, but once you try it, you’ll see the advantages. If it’s sweltering outside, the refreshing temperature of near 0°C feels great. And there are no crowds and no onlookers if you’re a little shy about learning to ski or snowboard.
And when you’re done schussing – or, in my case, tumbling down – the chalet-style canteen awaits, serving a hearty lunch and enough alcohol to compete with any mountain hut in the Alps. So don your best winter clothes and go hit the slopes.
Skiing starts at €18 an hour without equipment. A special summer deal offers four hours for €20 without or €27 with equipment