When skiers normally think of Europe’s great mountain ranges, Scotland likely doesn’t come to mind. However, Great Britain’s most mountainous country offers snow enthusiasts five winter sports centers with skiing and boarding for all abilities, along with splendid cross country and off-piste runs. Also, there are winter facilities both on-site and in nearby villages and towns.
Skiing in Scotland is quite different from skiing in the rest of the world because it is much more weather dependent. The mercurial weather and resulting unpredictability of snow-cover should be considered by travelers when planning a Scotland ski vacation. As such, Scottish skiing can be a gamble, but the benefits usually far outweigh the risks.
There can be good early snow in November and December in the east (Lecht, Glenshee) and good late snow in the west (Nevis Range, Glencoe). CairnGorm is central and often has early and late snow. However, recent winters have also brought good early snow for the west. Scotland’s weather can produce light fluffy powder via an Arctic blast, or more commonly wetter, heavier snow brought in off the Atlantic.
Skiing here can be a charmingly British experience, and one that’s far from the maddening crowds. This is in stark contrast to some of the more famous ski areas found throughout the world which can become congested and unruly on occasion. On its busiest day Scotland’s Nevis Range will attract 1,700 skiers. Deer Valley, Utah, can reach 7,500.
What’s more, Scotland’s ski resorts are easy to reach. Glencoe Mountain resort is only 42 miles from Inverness airport. There’s also the sleeper train which departs London around 9 p.m. and arrives in Inverness at 8 a.m. the following morning, so locals can finish work on a Friday evening, grab a train and be on the slopes by 11 a.m. the next day. When traveling by car in Scotland all five resorts are located less than 200 miles from each other.
Established in 1956, Glencoe is Scotland’s oldest ski center and has a reputation as being a great venue for the more experienced skier. It is home to the UK’s steepest black run. It also features a large plateau area which is ideal for beginners and those looking to hone their technique. Guests can even borrow a sled and enjoy some old fashioned fun.
Glencoe usually retains snow for longer periods than some of the other resorts, meaning that skiing and snowboarding are often available until April or May. The resort’s highest altitude is 3,636 feet and there are a dozen miles of pisted runs, split into four green, six blue, seven red and two black runs.
Glenshee Ski Centre takes its name from the Gaelic ‘Glen of the Fairies’ and it’s certainly a magical experience taking to the slopes at the resort. Glenshee straddles the Perthshire-Aberdeenshire boundary and is located at the top of one of the highest roads in the UK.
Glenshee, the largest in ski resort the UK, covers 2,000 acres with 25 miles of piste runs extending across four mountains and three valleys. Skiers experience a very modern Alpine feel at Glenshee, which features 21 lifts and a choice of 36 runs. Although natural snow is a common occurrence, the ski area supplements this with an extensive snowmaking system. This allows for late season skiing.
CairnGorm Mountain is regarded as one of the most beautiful and challenging skiing areas in the UK. With an altitude of 3,600 feet, CairnGorm Mountain provides over 18 miles of pisted runs serviced by 11 lifts. In terms of skier visits, it is Scotland’s most popular resort. It’s also conveniently located just a short distance from the main A9 arterial route which runs between Perth and Inverness.
The resort’s funicular railway — UK’s highest — takes visitors up 3,500 feet to the Ptarmigan Restaurant and Bar, which has stunning panoramic views of the mountains. There’s also the new Storehouse Restaurant at the bottom of the mountain which caters to 150 patrons. .
Nevis Range is an access point for experienced skiers to go off-piste and explore the Back Corries, the best-kept secret in Scottish skiing. Only a five minute trek from the top of the highest lift, the Back Corries region is a freeskier’s utopia. With access to precipitous bowls, often filled with the fluffy powder that freeskiers crave, the Back Corries rival the back bowls of Vail or other renowned ski areas.
With skiing up to 3,900 feet, Nevis Range reaches high onto the mountain of Aonach Mor – Scotland’s eighth highest – and offers skiing and boarding late into spring. Further up the mountain is an extensive network of red and black runs, as well as the acclaimed Boardwise terrain park. And when you fancy a change, Nevis Range offers a wide range of alternative winter activities, from sledging to snowshoeing to the wackier snow biking.
Located on the east side of the Cairngorm National Park, The Lecht is one of the smaller resorts but offers consistently good snow conditions. It is an ideal resort for beginners or intermediate skiers and snowboarders and has excellent teaching facilities. The center opened in the late 1970s and is popular with families, having the lowest prices of the five ski areas.
At its highest altitude of 2,600 feet, The Lecht offers a dozen miles of pisted runs including five green, nine blue, five red and one black run where skiers can use the slalom and timing poles to beat their personal best.
Unique Style of Skiing
Scotland will never rival the sheer magnitude of the Alps or other parts of Europe as far as skiing is concerned. It will, however, provide snow enthusiasts with a unique style of skiing that can only be experienced in this resplendent country.