The last snowfall in Central Florida was in 1977 but residents can snowboard and ski on indoor slopes that simulate shushing down everything from bunny slopes to double black diamond runs.
WinterClub Indoor Ski & Snowboard offers skiers the same cutting-edge technology developed to train the 2014 Olympic skiers in Sochi, Russia. The 26,000-square-foot facility has a pair of ski slopes that adjust from 45- to 70-degrees. The ramps look like oversized treadmills, covered in white, soft nylon AstroTurf that run uphill to create the effect of a downhill ski run. The slopes are computer-controlled by ski instructors who train both seasoned skiers and novices.
Skiers can also take a run on a virtual reality simulator, where Olympic slalom courses at Sochi, the Alps and Beaver Creek, Colorado or replicated on a 3D movie screen. Ski boots, helmets and Fischer skis and snowboards are included in the admission price, which range from a tryout rate of $39 for an hour of instruction to a five-ski pass for $280.
Michelle Farah, owner of WinterClub, began skiing the Alps in Switzerland at the age of 3 and decided to bring her passion for winter sports to Winter Park. She also owns the software company, Smartweb, and invested $2 million to convert a former medical office complex into an indoor practice area along with a coffee shop with comfy couches and a faux fireplace.
Farah said some skiers use the facility to get their muscles in shape for an upcoming ski vacation, while others try to fine-tune their technique with the 18 ski instructors on staff.
“Skiers learn discipline and technique here,” she said. “Snow is very forgiving. People often don’t realize what they’re doing wrong when they fall.”
Mirrors at the bottom of the slopes help skiers learn how to rotate their hips and stay in their lanes. A handrail helps beginners gain balance and confidence.
Kathryn Hardage, president of Orlando Ski Club, said they encourage their 350 members to go to WinterClub to get in shape and practice so they won’t be sore the first few days of their ski vacation. The club plans six ski vacations a year to Canada, Japan and Colorado.
Harding said ten minutes on the virtual reality simulator was “a strenuous workout” and “unbelievably realistic.”
Rob Agrimonti, of Los Gatos, Calif. was in Winter Park for a wedding, saw the WinterClub sign and booked a lesson for himself and his niece and nephew. He often skis at Lake Tahoe and said the lesson was a great learning experience.
“No cold weather and carpet was a lot more comforting to me than landing in snow,” said his niece, Emily Kent, a 23-year-old novice skier. But Kent never fell because the instructor was controlling the slope to stop whenever she got wobbly.
WinterClub, which opened in Winter Park a year ago, is booking the slopes for ski instruction, exercise classes, ski parties and corporate team building. A camp is offered each summer for ages 6-17. For more information, go to: www.WinterClubSki.com.