Although I’m Scottish, have lived most of my life in Scotland and made my first tentative turns on the slopes of Glenshee as a child, I’m ashamed to say that, until this week, I hadn’t ridden in Scotland for many years.
Throughout my teenage years we chose to drive for approximately 24 hours from Edinburgh to the French Alps rather than 2 ½ hours to the closest Scottish ski area of Glenshee. But that was a time when snow in the Scottish Highlands was in short supply and it was rarely worth the trip up. A far cry from the stories my parents tell of skiing there every weekend of the season when they were students.
However, the past few years have seen a very timely turnaround in fortunes for the Scottish ski industry, which until then, had been on the brink of collapse. Winter 2009/10 was an epic season where they received record levels of snowfall, and last year wasn’t far behind. Only time will tell what this season has in store, but it certainly got off to a good start.
Typically enough, it was as soon as I decided I’d had enough of dreary British winters and headed overseas in pursuit of perennial powder, that the snow gods decided to revisit my homeland. And while I was experiencing periods of abnormally low snowfall in Colorado and the Alps, Scotland was being hammered with the white stuff. Oh the irony.
So, having recently moved back up to Scotland, I was determined to hit the hills at the earliest opportunity. And I didn’t have long to wait as, once again, the Scottish ski season has got off to a great start. Despite Hurricane Bawbag’s best efforts, all five of the Scottish ski areas were open for business by mid December and last weekend conditions were fantastic, with fresh snow and blue skies.
Obviously I chose to make my pilgrimage on Monday once the weather had started to close in again. Black ice had caused chaos on the motorways resulting in the journey taking twice as long as usual, but these were to be my first turns of the season and the first in my homeland for years, so there was no way I was turning back!
It was snowing heavily by the time we arrived at Glenshee but (unusually for Scotland) there was no wind. Visibility wasn’t great but with all the fresh snow on the slopes, it really didn’t matter.
Most of the area was open and we had a great afternoon ripping it up. I’d forgotten just how extensive it is. It may not be Les Trois Vallées, but with 40km of pistes spanning 2000 acres and 4 mountains, it certainly beats the snow dome!
Had it not been for the distinctive snow fences and ubiquitous Scottish accents, we could easily have been in an alpine resort, although I am prepared to concede that a combination bad visibility, patriotic blinkering and rose tinted goggle lenses may well have helped me reach this conclusion.
However, nationalistic biases aside, there’s no questioning the fact that when conditions are right, Scotland’s mountains offer fantastic and hugely underrated terrain for British skiers and boarders. Unfortunately, when it takes the same amount of time to travel to the Alps, where conditions are much more reliable and everything is on a much greater scale, it’s a no-brainer for the majority of Brits.
But those North of the border have five excellent ski areas at their disposal and thanks to the run of good seasons, the areas have been able to invest more in making improvements to their infrastructure and facilities.
Unfortunately conditions have started to deteriorate since the beginning of the week due to the increase in temperatures, but the Scottish Highlands will still be the only part of the UK experiencing a white Christmas this year. And with any luck Father Christmas will have brought more snow and colder temperatures with him from Lapland!
Happy Christmas everyone!