FOR generations of skiers in the Lothians, “Hillend thumb” was an unavoidable risk on a day out on Europe’s longest dry slope.
The painful injury picked up the name thanks to the high number of stray fingers or thumbs sprained after being trapped in the fibres of the attraction.
As the centre prepares to undergo a major revamp, however, the company set to install its new surface has insisted the injury will soon be a thing of the past.
Bosses at Italy-based Neveplast say the firm will invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in building new slopes at the Midlothian facility, all made from a material which they say will bring skiers as close as possible to the sensation of racing on real snow.
The firm has won a £600,000 Europe-wide contract to construct new slopes and tubing runs, featuring its specially patented Neveplast surface matting, which bosses hope will re-establish Hillend as one of Britain’s most advanced artificial ski facilities.
Stuart Murphy, managing director of Edinburgh-based Snowtraxx International, which markets Neveplast in the UK, said he was confident the dislocated thumbs and painful friction burns suffered by Hillend skiers over the years would be no more than a distant memory.
The dreaded condition was named by Scottish doctors, who found themselves treating dozens of cases after the slope opened, and even got a mention in a Sports Illustrated article on Scottish skier Crawford Carrick-Anderson.
Mr Murphy said: “You won’t get Hillend thumb by skiing on Neveplast. It’s a state-of-the-art product which is the closest thing to snow that I have ever tested. There’s no metal in our material, which is plastic-based, and the holes in it are also a lot smaller.
“Neveplast is a lot softer and a lot easier going when you fall on it, and it will greatly reduce the injury to thumbs and friction burns.”
Among the facilities to be built are a 210-metre main slope and 60-metre nursery slope, as well as four Neveplast Tubby – or “snow tubing” – slides containing specially designed parabolic bends which will be accessed by a new 60-metre travelator.
Mr Murphy said the scale of the investment reflected Hillend’s status as the longest artificial ski slope in Europe.
He said: “It’s a huge investment. It’s going to provide the people of Scotland with world-class facilities.”
Bosses at Midlothian Council said they were “delighted” at being able to announce the revamp, which they confirmed would be completed by the end of this month.
Midlothian Council leader Bob Constable said: “The new slopes have been expertly designed to make for an even safer and more exciting snowsports experience for our customers.
“I’m sure people will enjoy developing their skills.”
He added: “Hillend remains open for business while the transformation work is carried out, with all improvement works due for completion towards the end of September.”