Places to Visit in Scotland
- Skiing Resorts
Each winter when the snow begins to fall thick on the ground, keen skiers tend to race off immediately to the Swiss Alps, Vermont or Colorado but are perhaps not so likely to think of Scotland as the ideal winter wonderland. The Cairngorm may not - yet - have the international cachet of the more famous and stylish Aspen but people have been coming to ski on the Scottish mountains for over a hundred years and today with major new development of facilities amidst beautiful unspoilt scenery, there is a whole lot going on for the winter sport enthusiast.
One reason why Scotland is not more firmly on the winter sports map is perhaps due to the unpredictability and inconsistency of snowfall levels. Winter 2000/1 was extremely good and especially the east mountain range providing the best skiing conditions in a decade.
Early in the New Year 2002 over 5,000 skiers and snowboarders were enticed to head off to the various Scottish ski-resorts from Glenshee to the Cairngorm after heavy snowfalls, clear skies and dry weather offered a perfect day out. The snow cover also enabled cross country skiing on the banks of the River Spey, near Aviemore.
However, mild and damp weather by mid January has brought a sudden thaw which caused restricted runs with only about 700 people able to find sufficient snow. Some of the ski resorts, Glencoe and the Nevis Range had to close. But the Scottish skiing season often lasts until Easter with heavy prolonged falls of snow coming as late as February and March.
Where to Ski in Scotland
Downhill skiers and snowboarders have the choice of five main areas, offering the right slope and piste for the a serious challenging run as well as tuition and nursery slopes for the novice and small children.
The five ski-resorts, all with mountain cafes or restaurants and ski and snowboard hire are scattered across the Highlands of Scotland:
This is the longest established resort with 19 runs and 20 miles of pistes. In December 2001 a new high speed funicular railway opened to replace the 40 year old chairlift which will carry twice as many people (1,200 every hour) to the top of the mountain. The original chairlift took 25 minutes but now the 2km journey will take a speedy 5 minutes.
Annual visitor numbers are expected to increase from the current 50,000 skiers (and summertime walkers) to 165,000. Part of this major £15 million project is the new Ptarmigan station, (to be completed in May 2002), situated just 122 metres below the summit which houses a restaurant, shops and an interactive Mountain Experience exhibition. While you enjoy your lunchtime bowl of soup and sandwiches here you might be interested to know that this restaurant is the highest in the country with of course the most spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Cairngorm has the largest snow sport school in Scotland and is an ideal destination for anyone wishing to learn or improve their technique.
The creation of Scotland as a skiing destination began back in the sixties when the Highland village of Aviemore, about ten miles from the Cairngorms, was transformed into an all-year round leisure and sporting centre with hotels, log cabins, swimming pool, saunas, skating rink, cinema and shops to develop tourism to the Cairngorm area, winter and summer. Forty years on the concrete architectural jungle of the resort has not aged well and many of the original leisure facilities have closed. However Aviemore is an attractive little town and an excellent base to stay with a wide range of hotels, guest houses, hostels and self catering chalet accommodation, restaurants and a railway station. Other towns and villages to stay nearby include Carrrbridge, Boat of Garten and Grantown on Spey.
The Lecht Ski Centre, Grampian
Situated in the North East, in quite a remote area on the A939 between Cockbridge and Tomintoul, a road which due to heavy snow falls is occasionally closed during the height of the winter season. This is ski-resort ideal for beginners with good teaching facilities, snowmaking equipment and a designated snowboarding park. This is a relaxed and family-oriented centre. There are 14 lifts and 21 runs.
Glenshee Ski Centre
Glenshee is south of the Cairngorms near Braemar and is said to offer the most extensive, exhilarating and varied skiing and boarding options. There are 25 lifts and 38 runs, across four mountains and three valleys. The key mogul run is known as the Tiger for the advanced skier and at the other extreme there are excellent gentle slopes for the beginner. The first snowboarding championships were held here and cross country skiers enjoy the high-plateau routes.
Glencoe Ski Centre
Just one and a half hour's drive from Glasgow, on the road to Fort William, there has been a permanent mechanical ski lift here since 1959 and therefore an easily accessible and long established centre. It has 7 lifts and 19 runs, holding the record for the steepest on-piste run in Scotland, named the Fly Paper. Glencoe is recognised as a World speed skiing centre. But it's not just for the experts - there's a ski and snowboarding school for beginners.
Nevis Range, Fort William
With Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, as a spectacular backdrop, this is a truly all-year round sports and activity destination. Visitors throng here for hill walking, climbing, mountain biking, bird watching, paragliding (very popular in summer months and there is a paragliding school open from April to October, with taster tandem flights) as well as skiing and snowboarding when the snow falls. Ben Nevis has the only mountain gondola (enclosed cars for a maximum of six), carrying people up to 2,150 feet which is a brilliant experience flying up the mountain. Here is the Snowgoose restaurant serving hot meals, drinks and snacks to revive the weary travellers. Full marks for access by wheelchair on the gondola too.
The Ski centre is the newest resort and has excellent facilities including a crèche, equipment hire, and café at base camp. There are twelve lifts in total and 35 runs. Up at the top from the summit plateau, Aonach Mor, is the highest ski run in Scotland, at almost 4,000 feet. Due to the altitude it is perfectly possible to enjoy good skiing in June!. There are good off-piste runs for the experienced skier and thrill seeking freeriders on Corrie Dubh, with its impressive snowholding hollow. Snowboarding is the world's fastest growing winter sport and the Nevis Range has become very popular school and great terrain for carving and cruising.
Every skier in Scotland will have their favourite but the Nevis range is regarded by many as the best:"Top class snow conditions" Skier magazine, February 2001
The Sporting Scots
For those who enjoy the outdoor life, Scotland is certainly a superb country of natural open landscape to take full opportunity of all kinds of sports and leisure activities, including golf, hillwalking, climbing, fishing, sailing and skiing. Part of the beauty of the sporting life here is the easy access by road and rail out of the cities and up into the hills, to the lochs and seashore. So when snow is forecast you can just set off north to Ben Nevis or Glenshee and can be skiing within a few hours. Because it is on our doorstep, many Scottish children have been introduced to skiing at an early age with artificial slopes available all year round (eg. Hillend, Edinburgh and Bearsden, Glasgow), and excellent skiing schools in all the resorts. Therefore a fun day out or a weekend at one of the ski-resorts is easy to arrange for a family or group of friends.
Because travel costs are not so great as flying to Switzerland or Colorado, comfortable chalet and hotel accommodation available nearby, reasonable day passes (Around £20, adult, £10, child), and without the thousands of skiers crowding the more popular world famous resorts, Scotland offers a more economical, relaxing and enjoyable winter destination.
And when the sun shines - and it does frequently through the winter months - and the sky is clear and blue with a fresh frosty air, what could be more perfect that a trip up to the hills - even to spectate and then join in the après-ski hospitality. The view from the Snowgoose restaurant high up on Aonach Mor looking to the North-east face of Ben Nevis and out to Loch Eil is simply breathtaking and incomparable.
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