Behind a strip-mall storefront in South Burlington, there's a place where you can ski year-round without ever riding a chairlift. You don't have to wear a jacket, either, or deal with frozen toes. But you do have to use your imagination.
My family and I accepted that challenge on our recent visit to Gonzo's HD Sports. The 8,700-square foot space is known for its high-definition screens that simulate sports like golf, baseball and hockey. But we were there for one reason: the ski simulator.
The treadmill-like contraption has skis attached and sits in front of a giant 20-by-8-foot-wide screen. Players choose skis or snowboard, click in, and negotiate their way down a simulated mountain slope.
For $60 an hour you get group access to the simulator, helmets and boots, which come as small as a youth size 4 for skiers, youth 3 for snowboarders. You can choose conditions — like moguls, groomed snow, heavy snow or hard crust — and the screen shows your speed, which can reach 62 miles per hour.
My 12-year-old son, Adam, took the first run. A certified ski-simulator technician started him out with a slalom course. You gain momentum by tilting your knees and angling your boots, working into a side-to-side gliding motion.
"It's so realistic; it feels like you're actually skiing," Adam said. The deeper your angle and tilt, the faster you go.
While it all sounds like fun and games, the workout is real: I'm a fitness instructor, and, I was surprised by how much my hips and thighs burned. After nine minutes, I needed a break.
Adam and Zac, my 7-year-old son, took second turns, and their improvement was noticeable as they got faster and carved smoothly around gates and moguls. Because the motions mimic those of actual skiing, the simulator offers transferable skills. In fact, coaches from ski academies — like Waitsfield's Green Mountain Valley School — bring kids to train at Gonzo's.
In some ways, the simulated version surpasses a day on the mountain: The nonstop action allows for more turns per hour, and we could be assured that bad weather wouldn't ruin our fun. An added bonus: the technician was able to monitor our edging angles and G-force and offer advice on technique.
Though the rental fee is close to what you'd pay for a lift ticket, the simulator lets people who've never skied or snowboarded get a feel for it in a safe, controlled environment. After a thrilling virtual ride, first-timers might just be enticed to try the real thing.
When our hour was up, Zac and Adam tried a few minutes of baseball, soccer and even Zombie Dodgeball, throwing balls at cartoon corpses.
"What's great about this place is that it's not just a video arcade," said Will Dodge of Essex, whose son was having a birthday party at Gonzo's the day we visited. "[The kids are] running around, throwing balls and swinging hockey sticks."
There's even a faux fireplace and mock bearskin rug. What better place to wind down after a day on the "slopes"?
Kids must be at least 6 to use the ski/snowboard simulator, and reservations are recommended. Wear comfortable clothes and ski socks. Pizza, pub fare and adult beverages available.
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