Work has started on building a state-of-the-art indoor ski centre for London - complete with real snow and Britain's biggest "living roof."
The £23 million Snow Centre development just off the M1 will be one of the premier indoor ski, snowboarding and toganning centres in the UK.
It will also feature a 7,000 sq metre natural sedum roof - the biggest of its kind in the UK.
As well as making the centre less "visually intrusive," the sedum plant covering will change colour with the seasons and attract wildlife such as insects and even birds.
The Snow Centre is a major redevelopment of the 30 year-old Hemel Ski Centre at Hemel Hempstead, Herts.
Instead of dry slopes, the new centre will have 500mm of real snow maintained in a temperature-controlled environment.
The graded slopes will be topped up regularly by snow machines and serviced by genuine "piste bashers" to keep them in peak condition for skiers.
With a 160 metre slope plus a nursery training slope of almost 100 metres, the new centre will offer superb facilities providing London and the South East with the region's premier venue for a real skiing experience.
Serviced by two drag lifts and a rope tow on the trainer slope, the ski runs are graded to meet the requirements of skiers and snowboarders at all levels of ability. Experienced and highly qualified instructors will provide expert tuition in a relaxed atmosphere, making a visit to The Snow Centre a great day out for families, parties or for pre-holiday ski practice.
A key partner is Snow and Rock who will have a large shop within the Snow Centre so anyone interested in buying winter sports gear can try the equipment on real snow.
With the temperature maintained at just below freezing, visitors will get a real feel of fresh mountain air while large video screens showing winter sports activities will add to the Alpine atmosphere.
And there will be plenty of Apres Ski too at the main restaurant overlooking the slopes with panoramic views, plus bars, coffee shops and meeting rooms making The Snow Centre the ideal venue for team-building conferences and parties.
The venture is the brainchild of David Surrey, director of the Hemel Ski Centre which was started by his father in 1978. Mr Surrey, who persuaded a consortium of local business people involved in the UK leisure industry to support the project, said: 'We see indoor slopes as the future for skiing and snowboarding in Britain and our aim is to create a superb facility that will allow people to enjoy the sport all year round.'
Qualified ski instructor and management expert Stephen Jordan is part of the team running the venture. He says 'Skiing and snowboarding are becoming increasingly popular and we're hoping to attract people at all levels of expertise. We also intend to hold some freestyle events in the new Snow Centre."
The project, also backed by NatWest bank, has taken two years to plan in consultation with builders Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, and the meticulous design will feature Britain's biggest living roofs covering the entire 7,000 sq metre length of the slope, making it visually unobtrusive and environmentally friendly.
The work which will involve re-grading the natural landscape to build purpose-built slopes is expected to take a year and the new Snow Centre will open in April 2009.
Keep up with the latest at www.thesnowcentre.com