RETRO: Village took the elitism out of skiing

Sheffield Ski Village 9th December 1988'Ski Village Official Opening'Andrew Pickard (20) a member of the England Free Style Team, performs a stunt in front of the ski instructors at the Ski Village.
Sheffield Ski Village 9th December 1988'Ski Village Official Opening'Andrew Pickard (20) a member of the England Free Style Team, performs a stunt in front of the ski instructors at the Ski Village.
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It was once considered a breathtaking vision of Sheffield’s future, a bright white symbol of the city’s intent to become one of the world’s great sport and leisure destinations.

Sheffield Ski Village was briefly the biggest and most popular tourist attraction of its kind in Europe. The £2.5 million development transformed the hills of Parkwood Spring – previously home to slum-like tenement housing – into a series of Alpine slopes so state-of-the-art the British Ski Federation made it the base for a national centre of excellence.

Sheffield Ski Village'Down the ski slope and over the ramp to provide thrills at the first ever National Snowboarding Championships - 10th September 1989

Sheffield Ski Village'Down the ski slope and over the ramp to provide thrills at the first ever National Snowboarding Championships - 10th September 1989

Yet, just 25 years after this futuristic resort opened in 1988, it is today no more than a piece of city history.

Last month Sheffield City Council announced the ski village – closed after an arson attack in 2012 – had fallen into such disrepair the authority may take legal action against its owners. Fly tipping, vandalism and more deliberate fires have blighted the site since the main chalet was burned down last April.

Now, to mark the sad demise of this once great attraction, Midweek Retro brings you these pictures from The Star’s archives.

They show the village in its heyday, when facilities included ramps, water pools, a bowling alley, cafe and bar. In 2001, a £46 million expansion was even proposed which would have led to the construction of a huge snow dome and hotel, extra tracks with real snow, mini theme park and a ski lift heading all the way down to Shalesmoor.

“The loss of the ski village is a tragedy for Sheffield,” says Craig Marks, whose property company Menta owned major shares in the facility between 2001 and 2007. “It was massively popular. We wanted to expand – we felt the potential was huge – but the support from the authorities wasn’t there. It was frustrating. I’m certain if we could have developed further it would still be attracting visitors today.”

The 8.4 acre village was built by Whirlow-based entrepreneur John Fleetham. Some 280,000 people from across Europe visited every year during the Nineties and the British Ski Federation developed a training centre on the six slopes and variety of obstacles which included half pipes, hip jumps and kickers. Professional freestyler James Woods, who took third place in the 2010-11 European Winter X games, trained there.

“We also made skiing affordable to the masses,” says John, now 53. “Skiing holidays are hugely expensive and way beyond the means of the average earner. We took the elitism out of the sport.”

But the venue’s decline arguably started as early as 2007.

When the £46 million expansion failed to win planning approval, the centre fell behind new facilities in West Yorkshire and Manchester which both offered real snow.

John sold up. Visitor figures fell under new owners Kevin Pullan and former Gatecrasher nightclub boss Simon Raine. The fire which ripped through the main chalet in April last year forced what some said was a long-predicted closure.