Despite its name, Winter Park has little in common with a ski town, but residents now have the chance to break out their skis and hit the slopes without sacrificing their warm environment. WinterClub Indoor Ski & Snowboard opened its doors in November, catering to a population some may be surprised exists – Central Florida’s ski enthusiasts.
“I’m a skier and I love Florida,” said Michelle Farah, owner of WinterClub. “The only way to get the two together was to open an indoor ski club.”
WinterClub’s infinite slopes are really two giant treadmills, which are covered in a soft nylon material. After strapping on your skis – all equipment is provided by WinterClub – and adjusting to standing on the turf, an instructor stands by your side at all times, setting the speed and the angle of the slope, and stopping the treadmill if you have trouble. Skiers gliding along the upward moving turf can feel like they're moving down a real mountainside, but without fear of falling on icy terrain.
In addition, a panoramic ski simulator places you virtually on the mountains of Sochi, Russia and the Swiss Alps. Strapped into the skis of the machine, you work up a sweat rocking back and forth, allowing you to work on your curbing, while also getting quite the workout.
These controlled conditions provide a safe learning space for beginners, as well as an opportunity for the longtime skiers to brush up on their technique.
“When you go skiing, you have five to seven days max vacation. The first two days you will be sore because you have not been skiing for a year,” Farah said. “You can come here, get the muscles woken up and get back in shape so you really enjoy every single day of your vacation.”
Bob Mackey, president of the Orlando Ski Club, said that after trying the equipment, he thinks practicing with it will save you time and money on the slopes.
“I was wondering if it was really that good. Once I got on it, I realized how beneficial it would be,” he said. “You’re not wasting that one-day ski slope ticket. You’re ready to get out there and have fun.”
Mackey said Farah reached out to the club, which has a membership of over 300, allowing some of the members to try out WinterClub’s equipment before its soft opening.
“I was a bit skeptical when one of my board members told me about it,” said Kathryn Hardage, first vice president of trips. “I though, ‘Hmm, how can they simulate skiing?’ I was blown away, impressed.”
Farah said that in some ways, the simulated skiing is more difficult than the real thing.
“When you’re on the mountain, snow is more forgiving, so you don’t even realize what you did wrong when you get back, but here, you would know,” she said.
Longtime skier and club member Steve Clark said he had some trouble adjusting to the synthetic surface at first.
“Bob’s opinion was that it pointed out my faults,” he said with a laugh.
The club’s members all said they are looking forward to returning to WinterClub for their monthly meet up in January.
“I think they’re very customer-service oriented,” Hardage said. “They really wanted feedback from us. They wanted to know what we thought. They really cared and wanted to be sure that they were meeting our needs.”
Terri-Lynn Smith, who has been skiing for 15 years, is planning a ski trip to Vail, Colo. in February, and plans to try out WinterClub’s slopes again before that.
“During the off season, these simulators are available to keep me in tune,” she said. “I can’t wait to see if this is going to make a difference.”
Farah said she was not surprised by the demand for a service like this in the area, something made clear to her when she set out to hire instructors.
“They went crazy,” she said. "Some of them were like, ‘We’ll work for free.’”
“When my husband Ben and I found out we were like, ‘we are done,’” said ski instructor Kori Wicks. “We’ll drop everything. Let’s do it.”
“It’s right up my alley,” Ben Wicks added. “It’s what I love to do. The fact that I get to ski in Florida is a bonus.”
The couple said they are grateful for the opportunity Michelle has provided them.
“Being able to come here and live the dream every day is really awesome,” Kori said. “It’s like a big family.”
After trying out the slopes, patrons can relax in a rustic ski lodge atmosphere at WinterClub’s Café ConGelato with a cup of gourmet Colombian coffee or gelato prepared using the recipes entrusted to Farah by an Italian chef.
WinterClub is located on 2950 Aloma Ave. Lessons start at $35. Visit WinterClubSki.com for more information.