Snowsport England would like to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Weardale Ski Club with a mini series of articles about the club. The real snow club is located at Swinhope, in the North Pennines. They have several well-chosen slopes for the best snow coverage when it arrives each Winter. The club have 2 button lifts as well as a welcoming club house and toilet for members to use. The location has remained the same for the past 60 years, but the club have come a long way since their founding members first started carving down the slope. The club is owned and run by its members, a dedicated group of volunteers who endeavour to make improvements to the club wherever possible. Let’s look back at the incredible achievements the club have made to get to where they are today…
Although we are celebrating 60 years of Weardale Ski Club, skiers ventured to the region many years before. Members of the Ski Club of Great Britain were noted to have skied on the Weardale slopes in 1790. It would then take another 200 years until Weardale Ski Club would be set up by a group of keen skiers including, Eric Peart, Jimmy Harris, Bill Hall, Sluggy Slowe, Bill Saunders, George Proud, Mary Smith, William Nattrass and Bill Tait. By pure coincidence the Winter of 1963 was one of the ‘snowiest’ in history, with snow lying at the slope from Boxing Day until mid-March, allowing for the founding members to work out the best slopes and areas to use for the club. Some of the original tow runs are still used by the club today, although the technology has been updated greatly from the left hand 1-inch ordinary hemp rope all those years ago!
A great short film showcasing the first decade of the club can be found here: Swinhope Saga- Weardale Ski Club 1963- 1971 – YouTube
Just a year after the club’s conception, the first form of shelter was put up on the slope near where the current club house stands. The shelter moved from being a corrugated wind break to ‘The Chalet’ within 2 years. The founding members were on a mission, alongside the continuous shelter improvements the club quickly progressed from one to three ski tows. Weardale Ski club has been forward thinking throughout its history, regularly improving the facilities available to the members. As the club developed, the popularity increased greatly and in 1989 the need for a bigger clubhouse was evident. The club built ‘The Lodge’ which still stands at Swinhope today! The club had always been skiing focussed; however, the first snowboarders were welcomed to the slope in 1995.
Alongside the generally popular and successful years for the club, it has faced its challenges. Between 1998 and 2008, poor snowfall resulted in lower membership numbers and financial strain, however the core members stayed loyal and helped the club survive this period.
As well as the constant improvements to the club’s infrastructure with more buildings erected, the equipment used to maintain the slope has upgraded significantly. Over the past 10 years, as membership numbers have steadily increased, ‘The Lodge’ has improved greatly with the installation of new wind and solar powered heating and lighting. At the same time a full electrical systems upgrade was done. The new weather station and webcams have enabled keen skiers to check out the conditions before setting off: Weardale Ski Club – Welcome (skiweardale.com).
Fast forward to 2023 and the club is open to all, however due to the location winter tyres/ and or chains are needed to access the site. Members need to take their own kit up to the slope for skiing and the club don’t offer lessons or coaching, so beginners may find it unsuitable. However, there are a lot of different Snowsport facilities across England and other affiliated clubs who could teach you to ski in preparation for the ‘real snow’ fall and your Weardale visit. If you have all this and can use a lift, then everyone is welcome to join on a snowy day. However, please visit www.skiweardale.com to find out how to join the club before you plan your visit. The club is very much open to those with disabilities, many sit skiers have skied at Swinhope. The only caveat the club state, is advance warning is needed, just to make sure additional assistance is available to get across the fell and onto the lifts. The main challenge for most is to make it up the road, we must state it’s a remote landscape and correct clothing and kit are necessary.
In 2021, the club featured on Ski Sunday, with Tim Warwood making the journey up to the slope: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/av/winter-sports/55737499
Earlier this year Jade, our participation manager visited the club “It was a cold, rainy and windy day, no sign of British summer, but a brisk walk up to the lodge was worth it for the breath-taking views. Speaking to the volunteers over a cup of tea, it was clear how special this place was. The club is run completely voluntary, with members supporting over the summer to get everything ready ahead of the winter season. They are so hard working and passionate about this incredible spot of hillside. Congratulations on 60 years, thank you for your dedication to our sport, your love of our sport and your commitment to the club. The club are looking forward to the next 60 years and if the first 60 are anything to go by we know they will be a success. If you are interested in becoming a member of the club, please contact email@example.com. The club are looking for volunteers to help at the slope, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. To find out more about all our clubs and facilities, please visit: https://www.snowsportengland.org.uk/clubs-facilities/.
If you are interested in getting involved in volunteering positions at our other Snowsport clubs, please visit: https://www.snowsportengland.org.uk/volunteers-officials/ or contact your local ski club about volunteer vacancies.