Olympic skier Finlay Mickel has labelled Midlothian’s dry skiing complex as one of the best in the world in the wake of a £600,000 overhaul.
The new facilities at Midlothian Snowsports Centre at Hillend were unveiled yesterday for the first time, just two years after the complex was threatened with closure.
An additional 201-metre intermediate slope and 60m of new nursery runs for beginners have been built under the major refit started in June this year.
New travelator systems designed to help junior skiers reach the top of slopes and an extensive snow tubing playground have also been added.
The extra ski runs will be tested for the next fortnight before opening fully to the public.
Mr Mickel, who first learned to ski at Hillend from the age of two, praised the upgrade, saying it would be of great benefit to the next generation of Scottish skiers.
The 34-year-old represented the UK at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and spent 12 years as a member of the British Alpine ski team.
A former No.1 British downhill skier, Mr Mickel added: “There’s not many other places in the world that take skiing on in the summer.
“In Scotland with the conditions that we get, we get some fantastic winters and some winters that aren’t so good for snow. It’s a great starting place and a lot of people can come here and tune their skills before they head off to the Alps.
“It’s a great thing to have so close to a major city like Edinburgh.”
Twenty nine Scottish Olympians have trained at Hillend, which boasts the longest dry skill slope in the world at 320m. The refurbishment is a major turnaround since March 2010 when Midlothian Council announced it could shut the facility after suffering losses of £500,000 a year. Fewer than 20 per cent of the centre’s users came from Midlothian at the time.
Midlothian Council leader Bob Constable said: “It became under threat with all the budget pressures that we have now. There’s a limit to what you can charge in a sports facility and obviously if we kept increasing the charges, we’d just end up with less customers. But SportScotland and the Scottish Government have come in with the money to improve the facilities and we’re quite confident now that it’ll pay its way.”
The council had been due to consider either selling or leasing the site until a Facebook group campaigning to save Hillend attracted more than 27,000 members, prompting the recovery plan and £600,000 in investment.
Mr Mickel now lives just two miles from the facility in Braid Hills and brings his five-year-old son to the Midlothian slopes. He said: “My earliest memory was getting wiped out by someone completely out of control slamming into the back of me and my Dad going bananas at him.
“For a while that’s the reason why six has been the minimum age here at Midlothian ski centre. But now we have an area here which is great for young up-and-comers.
“It can take them from the age of four. Classes and groups have a magic carpet so they don’t have to hike up and down. You see these all over the Alps in the beginner zones. These are fantastic bits of kit.
“I think it’s a great freedom to give young children. It’s almost like giving them a driving licence. They can choose how fast and how slow they come down this mountain.”