What’s the Difference Between Dry Ski Slope VS Real Snow?

by Robert Stanley | Updated On: July 7th, 2022
skiing downhill red jacket

Photo by Bad Kleinkirchheim licensed under CC BY 2.0 . We may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.

For some ski lovers, the wait for the weather to be cold enough to race down the snowy slopes can be quite a pain. However, there’s a rising trend among ski enthusiasts that just can’t wait for winter to enjoy a good ski session or simply dislike the cold: dry skiing.  But, what’s a dry slope? 

In a nutshell, a dry-ski slope is made from wet plastic. Unlike mountain slopes, dry runs don’t rely on snow so you can practice skiing all year round. Lift tickets are cheaper but there is a key trade-off, dry-slope skiing can’t ever match the feel of real snow beneath your skis. 

While a ski purist may argue that a dry ski slope can’t replace the experience of rushing down a snow slope, it’s still a great substitute for many skiers, even for the pros. Billy Morgan, an acrobatic gymnast-turned-Olympic snowboarder, even enjoyed dry skiing in his youth. Billy fell in love with snowboarding on a dry ski slope when he was 14. He racked up 2 years before he even felt the snow beneath his feet, and he didn’t even ride his snowboard on a real snow ski slope until he was 18.

In fact, there are around 50 active dry ski venues in the UK alone, making it the country with the most active dry skiing scene in the world, with the rest of the venues spread in other parts of Europe, the United States, Asia, and South America. But what makes this new form of skiing so popular? How is a dry ski slope constructed? What does a skier need to enjoy skiing on a dry slope?  And how does going downhill on a dry slope compare with a snow slope? 

What is A Dry Ski Slope?

A dry ski slope is a length of a manmade ski run that usually runs down a hill outdoors constructed with materials that allow ski boards and snowboards to slide on top. The materials used today differ greatly from the few first attempts to artificially emulate a skiing experience. While the very first dry ski slope utilized an unknown fake snow material in the 1920s, it was not until the 1960s in the UK that the bristle-like mat came to be the common material in dry ski slope construction, the Dendix.

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The Dendix features plastic bristles arranged in hexagonal shape atop a length of the mat with a hole in the middle of each hexagon to reduce friction. To ensure a smoother skiing feel, the mats are kept wet with a sprinkler system, further reducing friction as well as helping to reduce wear and tear to the ski boards. Since then, various manufacturers have introduced their own innovations on dry ski materials, such as Italian’s Neveplast which doesn’t need water, UK’s extra shock-absorbent Proslope, and Snowflex which can more readily adapt to irregular terrains.

While a dry ski slope usually runs 150m in length, there’re many lengthier slopes. The longest dry ski slope is currently located in Veduchi, Russia, which runs for 1,130 m, beating the previous record held by the 1,100 m Kagura dry ski slope in Japan.

Go Dry or Go Snow?

ski-in-yellow-jacket
Photo by Bad Kleinkirchheim licensed under CC BY 2.0

With the adaptability to be installed and used any time of the year, a dry ski slope holds a distinct advantage over a snow ski slope. It opens up the joy of skiing outside winter while sharing it with other countries without access to a snowy winter season or needing to build and equip a venue to keep the indoor temperature low enough for skiing. For some skiers, dry skiing was their very first contact with skiing, which helps to foster their love for skiing.

Both dry and snow ski slopes have their own merits. While nothing can replace the feel of real snow beneath your feet and skiing on real snow is by far the best option, there are some advantages to dry-slope skiing. 

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Do dry slopes damage skis?

It’s no secret that dry ski slopes can cause the edges to dwell on your ski or snowboard. It’s highly recommended to use wax specifically designed for dry ski slopes to protect the base of your snow gear. Thanks to dry ski slopes, seeing a boost in popularity these past few years, materials used for these slopes are constantly being developed to help decrease damage to skis. 

What’s a dry slope made from? 

Considering that a dry ski slope mat is usually constructed with soft plastic bristles, it breaks less fall compared to soft snow. For some, skiing on a dry slope serves as a reminder to ski more carefully though.

Is a dry slope cheaper than skiing?

A dry ski venue can be a better budget-friendly option for new skiers that are looking to get a taste of skiing, thanks to less budget needed to build one compared to indoor snow ski slopes. Freeski enthusiasts can also get their fill of the rush of skiing at a more affordable price point without sacrificing much in terms of skiing enjoyment.

Is a dry slope as much fun as skiing? 

Dry skiing offers a good experience for many, it can also disappoint quite a few people who are expecting it to feel closer to the snow. The reality is your sliding down a mat of wet plastic and not in the high mountains cruising down the powder. 

That said, there is some advantage to a dry ski venue, namely, there’s no need to wait in line for the ski lift, allowing skiers to go down the slopes more often and hone in their technique before a ski holiday. 

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What Do I Need to Prepare for Dry Skiing?

In terms of equipment, there’s not much difference between dry and snow skiing. While it’s tempting to dress lightly when dry skiing outside on a warmer day, it’s better to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of pants that cover both legs. While soft, the plastic bristles on dry ski mats are still not as cushiony as snow, so don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing. Wearing a waterproof and windproof outfit can also be a great way to ensure that a bit of drizzle won’t grind your ski session to a halt.

Other important accessories to have are glasses and a pair of gloves. Glasses can help prevent sun glares from disrupting vision, while gloves add another layer of protection from injuries and chilly weather while providing a better grip on the ski poles.

There’s also no need to prepare a specialized set of equipment to go on a dry ski slope, as regular ski gears will do the job just fine. But it’s important to keep in mind that dry ski materials can wear and scratch the edge and base of ski boards and snowboards faster than regular snow. Using specialized wax to treat dry skiing boards can help to protect the boards from friction damage. 

The Thrill That Skiers Love

Dry and snow slopes are undoubtedly fun. Whether a skier prefers one slope over another, there’s no denying that both are a solid way to satisfy that craving of going down on a slope. Dry ski venues have been serving as a gateway for many first-time skiers, which is a great thing to keep the love for this sport alive and well. All that matters is to strap on your trusty ski boards and prepare to race down the slope.

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