Dead Space takes a different trail this month. There aren’t many souls in Sheffield who don’t know about Sheffield Ski Village, that great scheme of promise that took the term ‘downhill’ to extremes. As you may be aware, it is no more. Many would say that this is a huge loss to Sheffield. But what about the future? Fortunately this story might be heading for a happy ending. It also demonstrates how dead space can be reclaimed when the situation is challenged and addressed positively.

The Ski Village site, known as Parkwood Springs, is considered part of the Neepsend district and historical opinion has it that the name originates from the existence of a well or spring on the site. The nearby woodland serves as a great place to have a ramble, enjoy nature and take in the astounding view of Sheffield. Visiting Parkwood Springs is an uplifting experience that leaves one wondering about the possibilities for a spot of such magnitude. We hope that the former Ski Village site can be reintegrated into the fabric of Sheffield in a manner that allows it to cater for a wide variety of visitors.

Before the Ski Village, Parkwood Springs and the surrounding areas were part of Sheffield’s thriving industrial revolution. In 1860, the locale was developed as housing for the residents who worked on the now forgotten Neepsend railway line. The area saw many changes over the following 100 years as Neepsend’s industrial fortunes rose and fell, and in 1978 the Parkwood Springs estate was demolished and cleared. The land lay idle until it was landscaped and eventually developed as the £2.5 million Sheffield Ski Village, which opened in 1988.

For a long while the Ski Village was a successful endeavour, so much so that visitor numbers reached 180,000 visitors per year at its peak. The site, which also became a national training centre for the British Ski Federation, offered several slopes and a freestyle zone that included half pipes, ramps and rails. It even expanded to include quad biking, a bowling alley and a laser battle centre. Unfortunately, a catalogue of factors, including competition from indoor snow domes in other cities and several fire incidents during 2012, sent the Sheffield Ski Village on the ultimate ride down the pipe.

The controversy over what contributed to the demise of the site hasn’t provided a solution for what lies in an apocalyptic burnt out heap, but from the ashes there is new hope. It’s refreshing to hear there is movement toward salvaging what’s left and building a new future for the Ski Village, Parkwood Springs and the surrounding area. A bid spearheaded by world champion mountain biker Steve Pleat alongside Sheffield City Council is looking to secure funding from the Sheffield City Region Infrastructure Fund.

The idea is to create a unique mountain biking centre predominantly for downhill trails, in an attempt to attract visitors from across the UK. But could the concept be broader? Work has already begun building and testing trails down the hillside. The levels of difficulty are second to none and the course will be open to the public this summer. In 2012 Sheffield School of Architecture (SSOA) used the site for one of their Live Projects. The open proposals aimed to spark interest for potential developers and sponsors.

The project worked with Sheffield Sharks Ski Club and conducted workshops with local college students. The outcome was that the potential scheme would be broken down into three key stages: a) Securing the site, providing a temporary clubhouse and immediate reuse; b) A permanent clubhouse, addition of different sports facilities and accommodation in the form of chalets; c) Further extension of the ski slope, improved transport links to the city and provision of cafes, restaurant and stores across the site. The concept was to enhance integration with the wider area, opening up to local communities and accommodating a more diverse selection of activities.

We can’t help but think that the future success of Parkwood Springs relies on the concepts arising from SSOA’s studies and the right type of investor. The former Ski Village didn’t have something for everyone and that needs to be avoided going forward. Along with the reuse of the slope and mountain bike trails, perhaps it could be opened up as another park or green space for Sheffield, or it could support a more adventurous visitor attraction, like an Eden Project for the North. Either way, this dead space looks like it has a future that’s not all downhill.

If you want to know more about the proposals, visit the SSOA site or get in touch with us.

Photo by Chard Remains Photographical 

Geoff Mackay & Max Everett.