'It's going to happen, and soon': Inside the plans for Sheffield's revived ski village
To anyone familiar with the old Alpine-style lodge at the former Sheffield Ski Village, the artist's impressions showing how its long-awaited successor could look will appear worlds apart - a futuristic-looking place a little like an imaginary moon base, standing on the hillside at the foot of a new artificial slope.
The next-generation lodge would be one of the centrepieces of the site's planned revival, a £35 million scheme driven by the city council, sports group Extreme Destinations and operator Continuum Attractions.
Along with the computer-generated images, a map showing where different elements of the development will go - including areas for skiing, snowboarding and sledding, a zip line, cycle tracks and a lake for canoeing, as well as an entertainment venue in an amphitheatre - has been issued, offering an insight into how the project is taking shape.
A business briefing was held yesterday at the Royal Victoria Hotel, where the council's chief executive John Mothersole, director of city growth Edward Highfield and Chris Lewis, a director of Extreme, spoke about the plans for the 48-acre plot in Parkwood Springs.
The ambitions are far-reaching - a 'sky bar' and luxury restaurant with views over the city is proposed along with an indoor sky diving facility, a 'virtual reality hub', shops and themed hotel accommodation, forming a complex that will support 136 jobs initially, rising to as many as 400. The ski slopes are expected to be reinstated in the first phase, likely to open in 2020, with the rest to follow.
The original village opened in 1988. In its day it was believed to be the largest artificial ski resort in Europe, and was used by winter Olympians for training. But, in 2012, a major fire broke out there, the first in a series of blazes thought to be arson attacks. The place was closed and has since fallen into dereliction.
A consortium led by Extreme was appointed last November, tasked with creating a destination that reflects the council's aim to position Sheffield as the country's premier 'outdoor city'. It will also link with the authority's ideas for the wider Parkwood area, including Wardsend Cemetery and the Viridor rubbish dump.
Chris said the map and images represented the launch of the 'first draft of our masterplan', and he wanted the input of the local community and Friends groups. "When it was operating it was an absolutely loved centre. We're not here to say here's our project, like it or lump it - we're all on a journey."
The company owns the TV channel Extreme Sports, but Chris said it was branching out as the popularity of daring pastimes has grown. "Everybody is doing it. Let's deliver it in destinations where they can. We want it to make sure it's the best outdoor slope in the UK."
Continuum, which also runs the Emirates Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, York's Chocolate Story and tours of the Coronation Street set, has committed to the ski village for 25 years. "The future is hugely resolved."
The cost is estimated at £22.5 million but is predicted to be higher. "I can see that going well in excess of £30-35m," Chris said. A planning application is to be submitted by January and three-quarters of the pre-lets have been agreed with operators who will take on individual attractions.
Extreme sponsors more than 120 athletes, including some who practised at Sheffield such as snowboarder Jamie Nicholls. Chris said sporting figures had been clamouring for the village to return, stating: "They want to see it back."
There will be health benefits, he added. "We want it to be cool to be active."
Continuum is considering running the hotel, given the themed approach that is mooted. "If you want glamping and pods, you need the operator to run that," said Chris. "Nothing is signed up, that's the next stage."
Edward Highfield said the project was the 'jewel in the crown' of Sheffield's Outdoor City brand. "That juxtaposition of living and working in a big city and being able to get out into the Peak District - it's a privilege to live here."
But the ski village had fallen on hard times, he admitted. "It spontaneously combusts every few months."
The council’s blueprint for Parkwood is to be published in September. "The vision there is for an urban country park. Go up there, go under the fence - it's not hard. When you sit on top of that hill you realise what's possible and how special it is."
John Mothersole said the latest plans added to an atmosphere of optimism locally. "It's like a game of snakes and ladders. In recent years there's been a lot more ladders than snakes in Sheffield."
Chris said: "It's never going to be plain sailing with a project as complex as this, but with a positive attitude it's going to happen, and soon."
It will be a 'rebirth, not just a redelivery' of the ski village, he declared. "We would love to put a sky bar at the top."