Scotland Ski Holidays
Skiing and Snowboarding in Scotland
Scottish winters vary immensely, with plenty of snow lasting well into April some years, and other years hardly any at all. The season typically runs from Christmas to late April but it is literally impossible to predict whether there will be snow in a week's time, much less many months ahead. Not the stuff of marketing dreams, but in these times of doom and gloom for Scottish skiing, Scotland's most progressive ski center is seeking to diversify to avoid the fate endured by most of its competitors. The new funicular is at the center of the plan, pulling in more and more non-skiers to the area.
In its first full year of operation, the number of visitors who came to Cairngorm for reasons other than snow sports was 180,000. Nevertheless, due to poor snow conditions, the number of skiing tourists was barely 45,000, less than half the anticipated 100,000. The funicular, configured to operate safely in wind speeds of up to 75mph, is also at the center of the skiing action, which has all too frequently been cut short by the gales that blow across the mountains.
Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste are the two starting points for Cairngorm's skiing - Coire na Ciste is the smaller of the two bases comprising of no more than toilets, a ticket office and a chairlift going up the mountain. Over at Coire Cas you'll find the primary center of operations, with ski hire, ski pass office, restaurants, bar and ski school. This also serves as the departure point for the funicular, which rises up to the top of the ski area at 3,600ft. From here you can either head down the main Coire Cas bowl on the red M1 or White Lady pistes, traverse over to a trio of draglifts which serve a series of easy (but very short) blues, or head off into the more testing Coire na Ciste gully, which sets out green but rapidly goes steep into a selection of red or black. Cairngorm's steepest skiing is found on the gullies leading off the East Wall. When conditions permit, there is a terrain park having jumps, rail slides and other features.
Skiers may wish to retire at the Slochd Mhor Lodge, a lovely hostel set among the most beautiful scenery in the Scottish Highlands. It is situated in the middle of the villages of Tomatin (distillery) and Carrbridge. Skiers could ski cross-country from the door around the forest trails and may even chance upon red deer in the hills while skiing on the paths.
Cairngorm's expansion is limited by the fact that it touches a Protected European Site, so although this is the prime resort north of the border, the ski area is much more narrow than Glenshee, although it's also much more likely to stay on open in the future because in terms of snow dependability and facilities it's the closest Scotland comes to having a ski resort.
If you like romance, come to Glencoe. Surrounded by the desolate expanse of Rannoch Moor on one side and the rugged peak of Buchaille Etive Mor on the other, this is skiing on the wild side. Originally called White Corries, Glencoe was the very first commercial Scottish ski area with the construction of a ski lift on Meall A'Bhuiridh in 1956. Since then expansion has been slow, having only seven lifts and 19 runs today, and the last few years have been tough, with mild winters, pins decreasing snowlines and visitor numbers. The resort was bought out by the Glenshee Chairlift Company in July 1995, but the receivers were called in May 2004 after a £1 million loss since 2002.
But now Glencoe's future is looking better, with a favored bidder found by the receivers, the area is once more a charming place to ski. Having the biggest vertical, its steepest on-piste black run and some of its longest queues - being just 75 miles from Glasgow, white weekends see the resort crammed with skiers and snowboarders.
From the base area a chairlift and tow take skiers up to the main bowl, and then on to the area's highest peak at Meall A' Bhuiridh. From here, one side leads to a battery of blues back down towards the Plateau cafe, while the other side extends to a couple of reds and Scotland's steepest black - the Flypaper -which shoots down through rugged terrain with stunning views of the surrounding hills prior to joining up with a green run to the Plateau cafe. The piste map optimistically marks three pistes (blue, red and black) all the way back down to the car park at 1,000ft - a near-alpine vertical of some 2,500ft - but this is a rare treat indeed.
Accommodation nearby would include The Glencoe Hotel which offers 15 bedrooms, many with superb views of the Loch, a bar and a restaurant serving food all day.