Mountain Biking at Gisburn Forest

IMG_7889On a recent trip to Liverpool we took a detour through the Ribble Valley to ride the mountain bike trails at Gisburn Forest. I’d heard good things about Gisburn and couldn’t wait to check it out. It was a gorgeous day and the drive there through the Lancashire countryside was stunning.

Like most of the UK’s main trail centres, Gisburn Forest is run by the Forestry Commission and has a very similar feel to my stomping ground of Glentress. The trails are expertly built and maintained, and the facilities excellent.

IMG_7892We decided to take the red trail, ‘The 8’, an 18km long figure of eight route with optional black sections. Unusually, in my experience at least, it started off with a short downhill section. It was quite nice to have a little downhill blast without even having to earn it first, but once we got to the bottom the climbing began.

I actually enjoy climbing, especially when it’s up meandering trails through the forest. The climb sections of ‘The 8’ at Gisburn were particularly good, with lots of steps, dips and rocky sections to keep it interesting. There’s a pretty steep stretch of fire road half way up, which can feel a bit relentless, especially if you want to ride the Hope Line (a short downhill section with berms, rollers, tabletops and drop offs), which means you have to do it twice!

IMG_7893Once you get to the top of the steep section, you’re not only rewarded with the option of riding the Hope Line, but also beautiful views of Bowland Forest and the Ribble Valley. Continue up the trail and you soon arrive at a quarry where the trail takes you over solid rock and features built from massive slabs. Shortly after, you hit the Sheep Hill boardwalk section. Unlike smooth Northshore sections that you just cruise along, the boardwalk at Gisburn is made from rough, uneven planks that you actually have to concentrate on riding if you don’t want to risk falling off! Good fun though.

Hully Gully - Ian CawthorneFurther on you arrive at Whelpstone Crag with its weird stone formations and plenty of good technical black sections to challenge more advanced riders. It’s here you’ll find ‘Bigfoot Slab’, a short, steep section of trail made entirely from, you guessed it, massive slabs. It’s one of the things to do at Gisburn and tends to attract crowds of people either psyching themselves up to do it or just watching others give it a go. We decided to give it a miss but will definitely do it another time when it’s not so busy.

The other main attraction is Hully Gully, which you arrive at soon afterwards. This section of trail is certainly worthy of its acclaim as it’s unlike anything I’ve ever ridden. It consists of a series of swooping, exaggerated berms that plunge down one side of the gully and up the other. It’s about as close to a rollercoaster as you’ll get on a bike and is such good fun you want to do it again and again. Sadly we only had time to do it once, so that’s another good reason I’ll be heading back there as soon as possible.

IMG_7899Continuing on, there’s a fun, albeit gentler, swooping section through more forest, followed by a trail with a series of log skinnies, some of which are pretty challenging. By this point the best of the route is over, but it’s a pleasant cruise back to the car park nonetheless.

With its varied terrain that’s both technical and fun, plus some great features, ‘The 8’ at Gisburn is without a doubt one of the best trails I’ve ridden to date. And to top it off, the scenery is absolutely stunning too. Can’t wait to go back!

Where’s your favourite place to go mountain biking? Let me know below as I’m always looking for new places to ride!

To view more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Blood, sweat and low gears

As is often the case with these things, I agreed to sign up for the Bealach Beag cycle sportive in the pub after a few drinks. The fact that I’d only acquired a road bike a couple of months earlier and hadn’t ventured much further than the cycle paths of Edinburgh did make me a little apprehensive about the prospect of taking part in a 43 mile event in the Scottish Highlands alongside a load of serious cyclists, but Dutch courage and reassurances that “it’s only a short one” eventually twisted my arm.

The gruelling but stunning climb up Bealach na Bà

The gruelling but stunning climb up Bealach na Bà

I do remember some mutterings about there being a steep climb but my other half assured me that it’d be no worse than anything I’d done on a mountain bike. Given that he took me round the black route at Glentress on my first ever mountain biking excursion though, I probably should have been highly suspicious.

The next day a sobering email appeared in my inbox confirming my entry. I had two months. Time to get training.

Initial preparation involved relentlessly hitting the streets, not so much clocking up the miles on the bike, but rather searching for the perfect pair of cycling shorts and all the other paraphernalia that I’d need to at least look the part.

I did of course get out on the bike too, although by the time the race came around the furthest I’d cycled was 35 miles, with hill training amounting to little more than a few laps of Arthur’s Seat.

Team photo at the top of Bealach na Bà

Team photo at the top of Bealach na Bà

At no time in weeks preceding the event did I think to check out just exactly what I’d signed up for, which was probably just as well, or I may well have pulled out! Had I Googled it, I’d have seen headlines such as “nightmare ride on Bealach na Bà too much to handle…” or images reminiscent of the type of road your car would struggle up en route to an alpine ski resort. At 43 miles Bealach Beag may be a relatively short cycle sportive but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in vertical climb. The route encompasses the infamous Bealach na Bà, which climbs 2053ft in 6 miles and is the toughest road climb in the UK.

Fortunately I was still oblivious to this fact before we set off although alarm bells did start to ring when, on chatting to a fellow road biking newbie, she confessed that a recce by car the previous evening to sus out the climb had reduced her to tears. Her admission nearly did the same to me, particularly as we’d spent the previous evening “carb loading” in the local pub.

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Beautiful Applecross

The first ten miles of the course were pleasantly easy and in no time at all we were “dibbing in” to start the climb up Bealach na Bà, which was timed separately to the overall route. The first couple of miles of the climb also felt reassuringly, or as it turned out, misleadingly easy, and for a while I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, I soon found out. The gradient started to increase gradually and before long I was on my lowest gear, wishing that I had more than an 8 speed set up, particularly as I could now see what lay ahead. I tried to focus on the road in front of me but couldn’t help but notice the road ahead that snaked right up as far as I could see. And when I say snaked, I actually mean zig zagged, as these were proper alpine style switchbacks. If I looked right up to the highest point I could see the tiny silhouettes of the leaders on the horizon, so I looked down and tried to pretend I was nearly there.

Useful info!

Event info!

I’m not one to shy away from physical exertions but I can honestly say that climb was the hardest I’ve ever pushed my body. I was off the saddle for most of it and had to push down with all my might on every single stroke of the pedal. My only comfort was the fact that I was by no means alone and there were many around me who were faring a lot worse. I managed to push past several blokes on fancy bikes, which was quite satisfying and probably even spurred me on. Towards the top a man in front’s legs appeared to buckle and he suddenly swerved all over the place, hitting the rim of my tyre in the process and knocking me off. Fortunately, other than a couple of scrapes, I was unscathed and got back on even more determined to get to the top than before. After what felt like an eternity, but was actually only around 45 minutes (only), the gradient decreased and I was able to crank the gears back up and power on to the very welcome sight of the water station at the summit.

After a brief pause to catch our breath, take a team photo (amateurs) and reflect on what we’d just done, we set off down the other side. I don’t think I’ve ever gone from being so hot to so cold in such a short space of time, but it felt so good to be flying downhill that I didn’t care. As we came down into Applecross bay I was finally able to appreciate just how stunning the scenery was, particularly now that the sun had made an appearance.

IMG_7324We’d thought that now the mega-climb was out of the way, the rest of the route would be plain sailing, but we were wrong. Although there was nothing anywhere near as relentless as the Bealach na Bà climb, the undulating coastal road around the Applecross peninsula proved to be almost as challenging, with its seemingly endless series of climbs and all-too-brief descents gradually sucking the life out of our increasingly tired legs.

When the town of Sheildaig eventually came back into view I could not have been happier, and when we got to a signpost indicating that there was only one mile to go I actually shouted for joy.

It felt amazing to finish, even if I did feel pretty wobbly when I got off my bike. I’d managed to achieve my goal of keeping up with the boys all the way round and in doing so managed to get a pretty decent time for a noob. I now can’t wait to do another, although I probably won’t be joining the boys in the epic Bealach Mor sportive in September, which follows the same route but is twice as long. Unless, of course, I get talked into it at the pub!

Labour of Lycra

I’m doing my first ever cycle sportive this weekend and preparations have been full on. It’s not so much that I’ve been clocking up hundreds of miles on the bike, although I have done some of that too, it’s the time I’ve spent getting properly clued up and kitted out for it that’s proven to be by far the most challenging part so far. In fact, by comparison, the actual training has been a breeze, although the reason for that may well become apparent this weekend!

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Training has been the easy bit

It wasn’t until I got my first road bike back in December that I started to realise just how different road biking is to mountain biking. Sure, the basics are the same and the two disciplines complement each other nicely, but beyond that, everything from technique to equipment, clothing and etiquette are different. I’d naively assumed that now I had the bike, I could just get out and ride it, which to a certain extent was true, but to be taken seriously as a road biker requires a lot more dedication.

To start with I was adamant that I wasn’t going to pander to what I’d assumed was pretension, and continued to leave the peak on my helmet, and stuck with my SPD mountain biking shoes and shorts which I felt much more comfortable in. However, the more seriously I started to train, the more I realised that there’s actually more to road bike etiquette than mere snobbery. I’ve learned through experience why road bikers don’t have a peak on their helmet, why they carry things in back pockets as opposed to a backpack, and why they wear Lycra.

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Possibly the most unflattering item of clothing known to woman

After finally conceding that my mountain biking shorts actually weren’t all that comfortable for riding long distances bent over in a race position, I realised that I’d have to succumb to the Lycra, blissfully unaware of the undertaking that lay ahead.

I spent weeks trying to find the perfect pair of cycling shorts and in the process must have tried on every single pair on sale in my hometown of Edinburgh. It’s not that I’m averse to wearing tightly fitting clothing. I am perfectly comfortable with my body and wear skinny jeans practically every day. I even have lycra running tights. However, there’s much more than just some figure hugging Lycra to contend with when choosing a pair of cycling shorts.

Most of them have tight elastic, grip strips, or both round the end to prevent them riding up when you’re cycling, which is great, but unfortunately these can also make even the slimmest of legs look like sausages. Unflattering seams can also have the same effect, so finding a pair that minimised the sausage look was of paramount importance.

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Faff-tastic

Then there’s the lovely padded crotch area – or chamois to use the correct terminology – that makes you feel like you’re wearing Tena Lady pants, I’d imagine. This is fine if you can wear them under mountain bike shorts, but in tight fitting Lycra, there’s nowhere for your ass padding to hide. The difference in comfort and subtlety of these padded bits is huge so finding a pair that felt comfortable – or at least as comfortable as it’s possible for an oversized sanitary towel to feel – was crucial.

And if that’s not enough, you’ve then got to decide whether to go for bib shorts or not. I have it on good authority that bib shorts, the cycling equivalent of a onesie, are much more comfortable for cycling in and that they are the preferred choice for pros. I did try on a few pairs and could see how this could be the case with the right pair. However, I just couldn’t see beyond the potential hassle factor of trying to struggle out of them in order to go to the loo. When you’re trying to discretely squat at the side of the road, the last thing you need to worry about is flashing your boobs to passers by as well as your bum! There are some brands that have appreciated this and incorporated clever easy access zips or panels, but it still all seems like a bit of a faff to me and I’d prefer to keep things simple.

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My new lycra loves

Having exhausted what I thought were all my options in the cycle shops of Edinburgh, I was resigned to just having to wear my mountain biking liner shorts for the sportive and hope that no one noticed. It sounds like a cliché, but on one final scour of the Lycra rail in my local bike shop I found a pair that I hadn’t tried before, and lo and behold they actually felt comfortable and didn’t make me wince when I looked in the mirror. There is an ever so slight sausage effect going on in the thigh area but I think the only way to avoid that will be to get legs of steel, which I fully intend to do. I also tried on a matching top and am not exaggerating when I say that it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever worn. It feels lovely on, fits perfectly, and according to the label, will keep me cool and dry when I sweat. Bonus.

I never thought I’d see the day but I am now a total Lycra convert. I’ll also be surrendering the peak of my helmet for Saturday’s sportive, so if nothing else, I will at least look the part! I am however sticking with my mountain bike shoes that I can actually walk in… for now anyway.

Riding Switchbacks

Even though it’s still snowing in the Alps, my last turns on snow seem like an eternity ago. Since hanging my snowboard up for the summer, I’ve turned to the mountain bike to get my adrenaline fix.

IMG_7172I’m lucky enough to live within easy reach of Glentress so head up there whenever possible. It’s fair to say that the frequency of outings has been directly proportional to an improvement in weather and increase in daylight hours, although I did earn my stripes on the mud chutes earlier in the year.

As I suspect is the case with many visitors to Glentress, my absolute favourite stretch of singletrack there is Spooky Wood. So, after the Cardle Hill climb with its log skinnies, and a few laps of the jumps above the Buzzard’s Nest car park we tend to head straight up there. The final climb is pretty steep but totally worth it when you reach the top and are met with stunning views of the Tweed Valley and the prospect of an awesome 1.5km descent with berms, jumps a rock drops aplenty.

The rest of the red descent is also great fun, particularly the lower stretches (Pie Run and Magic Mushroom) where there are some narrow bridges and north shore sections thrown into the mix, as well as plenty of exposed roots to negotiate.

IMG_7174After a steep but brief final climb up Sair Fecht and a short stretch of road it’s fun to just blast down the blue back to the Peel car park, but if you want more of a technical final decent, you can opt for the red or black.

I haven’t done the whole black route since my baptism of fire on my first visit to Glentress last summer, as at 29km, it’s considerably longer than any of the other routes and requires a good few hours, but I’ll definitely do it again soon.

Just a few miles further on from Glentress (coming from Edinburgh) is another of the 7 Stanes, Innerleithen, which is famed for having some of the best downhill trails in the UK. We went there a few weeks ago but decided to leave the downhill trails to all the kids kitted out in head to toe padding and full face helmets, and did the red XC trail instead.

Although the 19km trail is only one kilometer longer than the full red route at Glentress, it’s quite a lot harder, with a pretty grueling climb to the top that includes some steep and technical sections. When you eventually emerge from the forest, you’re rewarded with stunning views and a decrease in gradient as you wind along a seemingly endless track through the heather to the very welcome sight of the cairn at the summit of Minch Moor. After that it’s pretty much downhill all the way. It’s a fun and varied descent, which includes everything from swooping berms, jump sections and challenging rock drops, to stretches of narrow Enduro trail.

IMG_7175There are some pretty technical parts, including the option to dip into some black sections, but there are always easier alternatives if you don’t feel up to the gnarly stuff. I bottled some that I could have done and sent myself off ones that I really shouldn’t, so it’ll be good to do it again now that I know the route. The best part is probably the final descent at Cadon Bank, which is a 2km stretch packed with rollers, jumps and rock drops. Some of the drops are pretty hefty (beware the 4ft one near the top and another biggie near the bottom!) but you can always take the easier line.

At the moment I still prefer the more “leisurely” red route at Glentress, which feels a bit more theme park than army assault course, but some of the more experienced riders in our group rated the Innerleithen XC above anything at Glentress.

Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll be able to take better advantage of the more challenging terrain at Innerleithen and ride it with a bit more flair, but in the meantime I intend to hone my skills in the fantastic and familiar surroundings of Glentress, and visit a few more of the UK’s top mountain biking destinations.

To view more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Over to you…

Where’s your favourite place to go mountain biking?

Strange sightings in Bansko

Let’s face it, no day on the slopes is complete without spotting some outrageous ski gear or laughing at some dude flying down the hill on snow blades thinking he’s Bode Miller. There really is no better way to while away chairlift rides than a spot of idiot watching.

Comedy sightings are fairly easy to come by in most ski resorts but on a trip to Bulgaria this season we discovered that they are particularly prevalent in the resort of Bansko.

Here are some of the weird and wonderful sights that we witnessed during a fantastic week in Bansko where not only was the riding awesome, but there was never a dull moment…

Carrying snowboards on chairlifts

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When you first start snowboarding, getting off chairlifts will initially prove challenging and may result in the odd pile up now and again, but most people manage to get it sussed within a couple of days. In Bulgaria, however, the need to grasp this fundamental skill is avoided by merely unstrapping your board and carrying it on the lift. This unorthodox and frankly dangerous practice is banned in most resorts but in Bansko it’s commonplace.

Mind you, if the skiers are anything to go by, maybe it’s for the best…

Skier pile up Bansko

Needless to say, pausing at the top of the chairlift to experience the carnage is well worthwhile. Just don’t stand too close.

Keeping both bindings fastened to ride the chairlift

In contrast to the inordinate number of snowboarders choosing to avoid learning how to ride a chairlift properly, there was also a surprising number who were determined to make the process more difficult for themselves by keeping both feet strapped into their bindings.

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I guess the idea must be that they can ride straight off the lift at the top without having to spend the extra few seconds it takes to strap in your back foot. But is it really worth having to shuffle along the queue, pulling down the netting, bumping into people and generally pissing everyone else off, to then get onto the lift, have to negotiate the bar and sit awkwardly for the duration of the lift, only to arrive at the top and find that it’s flat? Nope.

Walking downhill with skis

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I was amazed at how many Bulgarians seemed to miss the entire point of skiing and chose to descend the slopes on foot, or arse, either dragging or carrying their skis and poles awkwardly. We stopped to ask one girl near the top of the mountain who was sliding down the slope on her arse, skis and poles all over the place, whether she’d like a hand putting her skis back on. “No thanks”, was her reply, “I’ll just go down like this”. She was remarkably chipper considering she still had several hundred metres to descend, and proceeded to divulge that it wasn’t even her first time on the slopes:

“I’ve been skiing for four years. I don’t know what’s happened”

Four years?! I think it’s time to give up, love. She then added that her boyfriend had skied off and left her there. No bloody wonder. We promptly did the same.

DIY impact shorts/back protectors

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Given the standard of skiing and snowboarding that we witnessed, it was unsurprising to see that protective gear is popular in Bansko. However, rather than fork out for a pair of impact shorts or a back protector, we encountered many thrifty Bulgarians who merely opted to strap a square of foam padding to themselves instead. Just how effective this makeshift body armour was, is dubious, but apart from anything else, it looked ridiculous.

Bulgarian twist on snow blading

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As if snow blades weren’t pointless enough, someone out there decided that it would be a good idea to attach snowboard bindings to a pair of mini snowboards and ride them like skis. Sadly we didn’t get to see them in “action”, or even who they belonged to. I like to think they’d been cast aside in disgust, but I suspect the owner had just gone to get himself padded up for a gnarly afternoon of, erm, snowboard blading?

Snowboarding with poles

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I get that the acquisition of a pair of ski poles can be handy on a flat cat track (personally, I prefer just to unstrap a foot and skate, but hey, each to their own) however in Bansko I actually saw a couple of snowboarders riding down fairly decent slopes, pole planting! Whether they felt it enhanced their riding or had nabbed them from some poor unsuspecting skier for the home run, is anyone’s guess, but either way, it was a unusual sight.

Après ski

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I’ve witnessed some pretty crazy après in various ski resorts around the world, with dancing on tables and nudity not an uncommon sight. However, in Bansko they take it to another level, with cage dancers performing alongside the live band in the main après haunt, which is unashamedly named, Happy End.

It has to be said that Bansko isn’t all crap skiers and snowboarders, and dodgy après bars. The mountain is great and there are plenty of more conventional après bars if you’re not up for a bit of cage dancing, not to mention loads of fantastic restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine. If you’re looking to go somewhere a bit different, not to mention dirt cheap, it’s an excellent choice. I love to experience different cultural quirks and it’s great when they even extend to the slopes. I certainly won’t forget our trip to Bansko anytime soon, which is not something I can say for many trips to the mountains, which can have a tendency to blend into one. I’ll certainly be going back, and I’ll be taking my homemade impact shorts with me too!

Read more about my trip to Bansko here

Over to you…

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the slopes?

From slush to pow in 24 hours

Just when I thought this season couldn’t get any stranger, on my most recent trip to the Alps I experienced the most dramatic turnaround in conditions I’ve ever seen.

Horses on piste

Horses on piste!

When we arrived in Morzine, mid March, it felt like summer. Temperatures were in the high teens in the town and people were wandering around in shorts and flip flops. It hadn’t snowed for three weeks and although there had been loads of snow prior to that, the high temperatures were starting to take their toll on the slopes, with bare patches starting to appear lower down. There were even horses out to pasture on a run that was still open to skiers!

Spring shredding is a lot of fun, especially on a board, and beers in the sun are an added bonus, but after three weeks of spring conditions already this season (in December, February and March!) we were craving a bit of snow.

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

Typically it was forecast to snow on the day that we were due to leave, and when it became apparent that it was going to be more than just a sprinkling, we were helpless to resist the urge to stay out, especially as our flights would only cost £30 to change and we were able to go and stay with friends in nearby St Gervais.

On the Saturday morning we left Morzine it was pissing with rain and we were starting to doubt our decision to stay, but consoled ourselves with the thought that it must be falling as snow higher up.

Sure enough, as we drove towards Chamonix later that afternoon the rain gradually turned to sleet and then snow the closer we got. It was still snowing when we got to St Gervais that evening and we went to bed early, excited at the prospect of our first proper powder day of the season.

Photo: Chris Barrow

Photo: Chris Barrow

The next morning we awoke to find winter restored and the landscape once again covered in a white blanket of snow. However, it was only when we got up to the ski area that we were able to appreciate just how much snow had fallen overnight. The snow was at least knee deep* in unpisted areas and it was still coming down hard. It wasn’t the lightest powder I’ve ever ridden but it was powder nonetheless, and after a winter of spring conditions, it was heaven.The slopes were also empty and we were still enjoying fresh tracks well into the afternoon.

It continued to snow for the rest of the day and most of the night, so the next morning we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts. The snow was even deeper and up to waist deep* in places, which was awesome, unless you fell and had to dig yourself out! Visibility wasn’t great early on but by mid morning it had brightened up, allowing us to take full advantage of the conditions. Once again, the slopes were quiet and there was untouched powder in abundance all day long.

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

By the next again day it felt like spring again but the snow was still great, if starting to get a little heavy and tracked out in places.

We headed to Argentière in Chamonix for our last day where the snow was deep but chopped up off piste. It was fun but after nine full days of riding, we were definitely starting to feel it in our legs.

Sitting in the sun after our last run, beer in hand, we felt tired but elated after such an unexpectedly awesome end to our trip and possibly the season. I’m hoping to get out to Spring Break at the end of April, but if those turn out to be my last few days of the season, I couldn’t have hoped for them to be any better.

* Measurements are based on my diminutive 5’3 stature.

For more photos check out the Riding Switch Facebook page.

 Over to you…

How was winter 2013/14 for you?

Highs and lows in the Scottish mountains

IMG_5767Skiing and snowboarding in Scotland is like a bag of Revels (what box of chocolates doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re going to get?) You might get a toffee or it could be a coffee*, but more often than not you’ll get the whole bag. I’ve made the journey up from Edinburgh twice in the past few weeks and had so many Revels, I’m still buzzing from the sugar rush.

With all the snow that’s been falling in the Scottish mountains, I’d been desperate to get up there for a shred. Reports of more snow than Whistler and pictures more reminiscent of the Alps than the Highlands were pretty hard to resist. So, when Dan and I found ourselves with a couple of days to spare that didn’t appear to coincide with a tempest, we decided to head to Nevis Range where conditions looked like they were going to be best.

IMG_5768As we left the house at 6am(ish) I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in my stomach that we were heading for disappointment, but tried to remain optimistic and put it down to the early start. That’s the problem with riding in Scotland. The weather is so unpredictable that conditions can change in the blink of an eye and even if it all looks good when you leave, by the time you get up there it can be a very different story.

As we drove north it started to snow and got increasingly heavier the further we went. However, as we approached Nevis range the snow ceased and cloud parted to reveal snow covered mountains bathed in blue sky and sunshine. We could hardly believe our luck and headed up the gondola as quickly as possible. Not long into our ascent, the gondola started to sway and the sinking feeling returned to my stomach. As we exited the gondola station we were hit by what felt like, and probably were, gale force winds, which were doing their best to wrestle our boards out of our hands.

Frozen fenceUndeterred by the breeze, we strapped on our boards and headed up the only couple of tows that were still running. Once we were headed downhill it was fine and other than a few patches where it had been wind blasted, the snow was great. The views were also stunning and we thanked our lucky stars that we were at least able to see where we were going. Sadly that wasn’t to last and the weather closed in after a few runs which lead us to seek refuge in the café.

Needless to say the café was packed but there were still plenty of hardy souls out there braving the winds, driving snow and bad vis; not least the ski school kids who were being ushered out into the wilds while their parents looked on from the warmth and comfort of the café.

IMG_5922The wind did die down a bit as the afternoon went on and we got some good runs in the limited area that was open.

The next morning it looked like it was going to be another clear day and when we pitched up at the ticket office we were told that there had been loads of snow overnight, the wind had dropped and the slopes were looking great. However, in the time it took us to get our gear out of the car, conditions had deteriorated so much that they’d had to close the gondola. It’s a frustrating scenario that’s been all too common this season.

Our trip to Nevis may have promised many a toffee Revel that turned out to be coffees but the opposite was true of our trip to Glenshee a week or so later.

IMG_5936Predictably enough the promise of light snow and a bit of sunshine that had been forecast the night before had changed to rain and fog by the morning, but as we were already up and ready, we decided to make the journey all the same.

We’d barely crossed the Forth Bridge when the fog started to set in, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day, but we kept going, ever hopeful of the chance of toffees.

The fog lingered for the entire journey until we got to the Spittal of Glenshee where miraculously it lifted, taking our spirits with it. By the time we got to the car park it was drizzly and overcast, but it was at least mild and, most importantly, still.

The visibility wasn’t the best for our first few runs and we needed wipers for our goggles, but we were just happy that the snow was good, if a bit heavy, and the whole area was open.

IMG_5920After a few runs on the lower slopes we headed up to Glas Maol in the hope that the drizzle might be snow up there. As we suspected, it was loads better, and although we couldn’t see much on our first run, the snow was incredible so it didn’t matter.

As we rode up the Glas Maol tow for the second time, the unthinkable happened.  A glow started to appear in the sky and by the time we got to the top, the sky had completely cleared to reveal the huge bowl in all its splendour. The ride down was among the best I’ve ever had in Scotland and by the time we got to the bottom we both had massive grins on our faces. Sadly we only got a couple of runs like that before the cloud closed in again as quickly as it had lifted, but by then we knew where all the fun hits were and which bits to avoid. We did see a few people accidentally send themselves off the cliff half way down though!

IMG_5931As the afternoon went on, the cloud lifted and sun broke through again periodically but rarely stayed that way for more than a few minutes at a time. It did brighten up again right at the end of the day though allowing us to enjoy our last run in a spectacularly lit, empty bowl. It’s always good to finish the bag with a toffee although it always leaves me wanting to open another one straight after!

Conditions may be a bit hit or miss in the Scottish mountains at the moment but it’s going to be amazing when we get a period of high pressure and settled weather. And with the volume of snow that’s up there, we should still have loads of time left to enjoy it!

*My favourite Revels are toffee and least favourite coffee. Please substitute your own preferences accordingly.

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