Katie Summerhayes’ dad was working high on a tower block in Sheffield when he looked out and saw some white streaks flowing down a distant hillside.
Such an unusual sight in an urban city, he decided to check it out and took his then 6 year old daughter along to the Sheffield Ski Village. The young Summerhayes enjoyed the visit and began visiting the attraction every weekend. She is now part of Team GB's freestyle Skiing team at the Winter Olympics.
Freestyle World Ski Championships silver medallist James ‘Woodsy’ Woods also forged his craft at the Parkwood Springs site, as did his Team GB team-mate James Machon.
Indeed, many of the UK’s stars of the Sochi Winter Games trained on the humble hillside venue in their formative years and believe they wouldn’t be where they are now without the help of seemingly out-of-place dry slopes.
But the Sheffield Ski Village no longer stands proud looking over one of the city’s many valleys. The leisure facility, once the largest artificial ski slope in Europe, has become a haven for fly tipping and vandalism.
The venue finally fully closed in 2012 after a number of arson attacks and shocking vandalism. Unable to obtain insurance, owner Kevin Pullen pulled the plug. He told The Star: “We have been inundated with vandalism and thefts since the first fire.
“When the village was up and running and we were on site 24/7 we could contain things, but when our insurance ran out we have not been able to get re-insured, and there is no way we can keep the site secure because people seem to think they can walk on and help themselves to whatever they want. It is proving impossible to get re-insured.”
The Ski Village opened in 1988 to much fanfare and over the years added a number of other attractions including a bar, quad biking, lazer tag and ten-pin bowling.
At one point there were plans to build an £80million theme park by the Ski Village and an ambitious proposition to connect the site with the city centre by cable car. There was even a scheme to include a downhill biking track on the site, designed by professional mountain biker Steve Peat.
Such ideas quickly fizzled out and the area is left almost lifeless and looking like something from an apocalypse movie.
Owners now want to build up to 70 houses on the 16.5 acre site and breathe new life into the ‘forgotten’ area.
Such plans are upsetting to the memories of those involved in ski-sports. Pat Sharples, head of Team GBs Freeski team, told the Daily Mail: “Sheffield Ski Village had to be one of the UK's standout slopes for me. It was the first place that really invested in a full freestyle arena and the first dry slope in the UK to have a half pipe.
“To succeed in alpine skiing, you have to have a lot of money behind you. But with freestyle skiing, no way. From a hillside in Sheffield came the extreme skiing of the Chamonix Valley.”
For now Sheffield Ski Village stands empty and derelict. The once proud slopes are beginning to become overgrown with weeds and brambles whilst the former buildings are simply burnt out shells or even complete ruins.
It does have a legacy, however. The current crop of skiers in Sochi will vouch for that. Problem is, where will South Yorkshire’s next big winter sports names train?
Image credits: Stills from Giannis Kipreos YouTube video: 'Sheffield Ski Village: James Woods' Stomping Ground'
A version of this article was originally written for and published at Social Sheffield / We Love Sheffield magazine (May 2014).
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