As the conveyor belt underneath my ski boots begins to move, I let go of the bar and let the magic carpet carry me upslope. Following my instructor’s advice, I forgo the aggressive carves and hockey stops I’ve spent years perfecting to manage my speed on snow and instead alternate between pizza and french fries. Within minutes, however, I’m making wedge-style turns, and by the end of my 15-minute demo, I’m working in parallel turns. I’m not exactly laying down my edges yet, but it’s close enough to the real thing that it tricks my brain into believing a simple fact: I’m skiing indoors.

Welcome to Snobahn (stylized as Snöbahn), an indoor adventure sports complex that started eight years ago in Centennial and recently expanded to a second, massive, 38,000-square-foot location in Thornton. While there are trampolines for practicing tricks; a BMX, skate, and scooter freestyle park; and even a big-air jump complete with a landing airbag, I’m here to find out if its revolving carpet “slopes”—each with adjustable speed and angle—could help me keep my ski legs during the offseason.

Bode Miller hits the carpet slope at the new Thornton location of Snobahn. Photo courtesy of Snobahn

Despite such an obvious (at least to me) use case, summer is actually Snobahn’s slowest season, says Gina Merrill, the company’s director of sales and marketing. Since her husband, Sadler Merrill, founded Snobahn in 2016, most of its faux-snow sessions (30 minutes; from $45 for semi-private lessons, from $90 for private lessons; gear included) are filled by customers who want to learn how to ski or board in a controlled environment without shelling out $300-plus. There’s also a large contingent of out-of-staters who book lessons to dust off the cobwebs before they head to the mountains for their annual ski vacation. “We’ve had visitors from 48 of the 50 states,” Gina says. “We’ve had a guy fly in from Texas every weekend to take lessons.”

After just a quarter of an hour on one of Snobahn’s machines, I already wish it was how I’d learned to ski. Not only does an hour here equate to the same amount of turns you’d typically make in an entire day riding a chairlift, Sadler says, there are mirrors at the foot of each artificial slope so you receive immediate feedback on your form. “It’s a truth serum,” he says. “Any flaws in your technique will be very evident.”

I found that artificial snow carpet rewarded good form. After the initial shock of skiing without moving wore off, I straightened out my wedge and moved my weight forward, driving my shins into the tongues of my boots. Instantly, the turns came easier and quicker, just like they would on a real ski hill. I only wish I had poles since I’ve never been able to maintain my form for long without pole planting, but I suppose that’s feedback I could get from the mirrors.

At the same time, it’s not a perfect one-to-one conversion to skiing on a mountain. Snow is seven times slicker than the damped nylon carpet on Snobahn’s ski treadmills, according to the company, meaning the timing of each turn is slightly off. And because the carpet moves, not the skier, the system doesn’t reward sharp cuts or hockey stops lest you find yourself whisked up the artificial slope. (Don’t worry, your instructor has multiple methods to stop the treadmill.) Lose your momentum by turning too hard, and you’re also likely to pop out of your bindings, which have DIN settings kept purposefully low for safety. The artificial material also seems to reward putting more weight on your downhill ski during turns than is recommended these days for modern rockered skis (this is still up for debate), but I’m willing to chalk a large part of that up to my limited time on the machine—and my mediocre technique on and off snow.

For my instructor, a snowboarder named Jamie Colt who’d never skied until he started teaching at Snobahn (instructors are required to learn and teach both disciplines), the hardest part of skiing on snow the first time was switching from the short skis Snobahn provides to full-size versions at a real resort. “I kind of wish I hadn’t told my friends I was learning to ski here so I could have just shown up on the mountain one day and just shredded,” he says.

Once I’ve had my fill—my arches aching from skiing for so long without a chairlift break to rest them—I step off the machine, and Colt maxes out the treadmill’s slope at 35 degrees. Then he lets it rip. It’s wild to watch him ski so hard completely in place. By the time he is done, he’s out of breath and there’s sweat on his brow. That does as much to convince me to return ahead of next ski season as my own time on the machine. It would certainly beat navigating the minefield that is Keystone’s Schoolmarm on opening weekend.

Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas writes and edits the Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for