Sheffield Ski Village homecoming - excitement builds at club which produced golden generation

Sheffield's Ski Village during its heyday
Sheffield's Ski Village during its heyday
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Members of the exiled Sharks Ski Club have spoken of their growing excitement about a long-awaited homecoming to Sheffield's Ski Village.

The club, which produced an impressive four members of Team GB's record-breaking PyeongChang Winter Olympics squad, has been based in Castleford since the slopes above Sheffield first went up in flames in 2012.

Sheffield's Ski Village has been left to rot after a series of fires

Sheffield's Ski Village has been left to rot after a series of fires

READ MORE: £22.5m plans to transform Sheffield's derelict Ski Village into extreme sports complex

But the hillside at Parkwood Springs remains its spiritual home, so when £22.5 million plans were unveiled to reopen the fire-ravaged ski slopes there as part of an extreme sports destination they generated a huge buzz among members.

Sharks chairman Tim Justice said: "It would mean everything for us to be able to come home to where it all started."

Katie and Molly Summerhayes, James Woods and Peter Speight all famously cut their teeth on the Ski Village's dry slopes, and fellow Sharks spent last month glued to their screens in the small hours as the club's talented quartet showcased their skills on the sport's biggest stage.

EXTREME chief executive Alistair Gosling on the derelict slopes at Sheffield's Ski Village

EXTREME chief executive Alistair Gosling on the derelict slopes at Sheffield's Ski Village

READ MORE: New age travellers living beside Sheffield's old Ski Village plan to fight legal bid to remove them

Their success and that of the club's other high-flying alumni was built, explains Tim, on almost unfettered access to the Ski Village, which he says was like their personal playground where they could ski to their hearts' content for around £40 a month.

The low prices and friendly welcome opened up a new world to many youngsters - and their parents - who before then had considered skiing the preserve of the moneyed elite.

And the hours they racked up there enabled them to perfect tricks which brought them global attention when they began uploading them to YouTube for fun.

Olympic skier Katie Summerhayes learned to ski at Sheffield's Ski Village

Olympic skier Katie Summerhayes learned to ski at Sheffield's Ski Village

READ MORE: James Woods - the Sheffield freestyle skier gunning for Olympic gold in PyeongChang

"It was almost an advantage practising on plastic slopes because they're harder to ski on so if you can do it on that you can do it on real snow," said Tim.

While the Sharks are hugely grateful to Snozone in Castleford, who they say have bent over backwards to accommodate them, it will never feel quite like home.

The steeper costs make it harder for those from poorer backgrounds to get involved, which is anathema to the club's ethos.

Sharks chairman Tim Justice on the Ski Village slopes

Sharks chairman Tim Justice on the Ski Village slopes

While membership is still around 300 - similar to when the Sharks moved base - the demographic has inevitably changed.

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And the Ski Village was as much social club as sports stage, with countless friendships forged at what was in its heyday reportedly Europe's largest artificial ski resort.

Paul Smith, the Sharks' race team manager, said: "In Sheffield there was more of a community club feel. Everyone would socialise there afterwards and it was so easy to make new friends.

"Two hours at Castleford costs around £40, which would have bought you a whole month's skiing in Sheffield. We have families of four who all of a sudden could only afford to come once every couple of months.

"You get to the point where you need lots of money to ski and enhance your talent, which is against the Sharks ethos.

Tim's daughter Genevieve Justice takes to the air at the Ski Village

Tim's daughter Genevieve Justice takes to the air at the Ski Village

"Coming home to Sheffield will be so nostalgic for many of us but we hope it will also enable us to get more families involved in skiing and to keep evolving as a club."

"The club's all about giving young people an opportunity they never would have expected.

"Joining the Sharks is the best thing we ever did. The circle of friends we've made is amazing."

The club, which was founded in 1990, could not survive without its band of loyal volunteers like Tim and Paul.

They both became hooked after taking their children along and joining adult lessons to pass the time, and they are now qualified instructors passing on their knowledge to a new generation.

Coming from humble backgrounds in Sheffield and Rotherham, both say skiing is something they could never have afforded as boys and they are eternally grateful for the opportunities the Sharks gave them and their children.

Their unswerving loyalty to the club is not unique, they say, with an amazing camaraderie between members past and present.

Fresh from competing in South Korea, the Summerhayes sisters recently returned to the club and after patiently signing autographs led a training session.

"Watching Molly, Katie and the others in PyeongChang gave us such a buzz and it's great how they've stuck with us. They're such grounded kids and they love coming back to us.

"As soon as Molly and Katie had finishing delivering the training session the other week, they were asking when they could come again. It's that spirit which makes it such a great club."

EXTREME Destinations is leading a consortium which was last autumn announced by Sheffield Council as its preferred developer for the Ski Village site and surrounding land.

Plans are being drawn up to revive the ski slopes and mountain bike tracks, which could reopen as early as 2019, and to make them the centrepiece of a huge sporting complex with other attractions potentially including indoor skydiving, surfing and eSports complemented by a range of restaurants, bars, shops and hotel accommodation.

Tim is hugely excited by this vision for what he describes as 'Center Parcs but better, right in the middle of Sheffield'.

"Sheffield's trying to market itself as the 'Outdoor City' and this could really add substance to that claim," he said.

"With the Olympic Legacy Park, the city's footballing history and the amazing opportunities in the surrounding countryside, this could be the hub of something really special."

Youngsters in action at the Ski Village

Youngsters in action at the Ski Village