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Snow World: Indoor ski facility takes Dutch to new heights

By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 8, 2008

From the legend of Hans Brinker to the icy exploits of three-time Olympic gold medalist Marianne Timmer, speed skating has traditionally lapped other winter sports in the minds of most Dutch.

And yet, situated near the German border in southeastern Netherlands, about the only place in the country with hills, is Europe’s largest indoor ski resort.

In such a low-lying country as the Netherlands, SnowWorld might seem like the stuff of dreams, a tale more fantastic than little Hans and his silver skates. But it isn’t.

The winter wonderland, located atop an old slag heap in Landgraaf near Heerlen, operates year round, drawing novice, regular and professional skiers alike. It has two 500-meter ski runs, a third piste for children and seven lifts, including a six-seater. The après-ski options range from a midslope rustic cabin to a traditional Austrian-style chalet. There also is an upscale restaurant.

“The whole world is coming here,” said Bjorn Eyck, an 18-year-old ski marshal.

That’s a bit of an overstatement, but owner Koos Hendriks says SnowWorld Landgraaf draws upwards of 1 million visitors a year. It has become such a draw that a hotel complex is under construction and due to open in the spring.

Hendriks also owns a second indoor ski resort near The Hague and plans to build a third on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona, Spain.

“We have plans for every country in Europe,” says Rickard Kokke, SnowWorld’s operations manager.

Situated 835 feet above sea level, the complex in Landgraaf opened six years ago. Hendriks claims it’s the world’s largest indoor winter sports facility, but that’s debatable. Still, Landgraaf has become so popular it now hosts professional snowboarding events and national ski teams interested in midsummer training.

On a recent Thursday night, the ski slope was wide open for evening enthusiasts. One of them was Björn Grelck of Aachen, Germany. He came to prep for an upcoming ski trip to Les Trois Vallées, France.

“You can always ski, and it doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside,” Grelck said. “I came to work on my skills before I go on holiday.”

Eyck and other employees say winter weekends at SnowWorld are often crowded, so be prepared. Still, the slope provides skiers and snowboarders with a chance to fly downhill any day of the year. The artificial snow is not as fine as the fluff in, say, northern Utah, but it is better than some may think.

“We are one of the biggest attractions in southern Netherlands,” Kokke says.

Not bad for an old slag heap.


On the QT

Directions: From Schinnen, take A76 east toward Heerlen and Aachen, exiting at N281 and continuing toward Heerlen (Landgraaf is east of the city). After several exits, take the one for Park Gravenrode (the exit after the hospital) and turn left. Signs should begin to appear for SnowWorld, or winter park. From Brunssum, take N274 south to Heerlen, where it intersects with A76.

Times: SnowWorld Landgraaf runs its lifts 365 days a year. Between Oct. 1 and March 31, it operates 9 a.m. to midnight, Monday to Friday; it opens an hour earlier on weekends. Between April 1 and Sept. 30, operating hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. On major holidays, such as Christmas, the complex closes early.

Costs: Ski lift prices are based on the hour. One hour is 19.50 euros. A second hour is an additional 10 euros. Four hours cost 34 euros; eight hours, 36.50 euros. Children 4 to 12 and seniors 65 and older pay 3 to 5 euros less per hourly rate. Skis — or a snowboard — and boots can be rented for 10 euros. Ditto for helmets and ski suits. Monthly and all-year passes as well as individual or group lessons are available.

Food: There are a couple of restaurants and a bar at the base of the hill. The ski hut at midslope offers liquid relief.

Information: SnowWorld’s Web site, www.snowworld.nl, includes a Webcam and information on tickets and schedules. It has an English-language section.

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