With Scotland’s ski season underway, it is the perfect time to explore your options and choose the perfect piste.
Regardless of your budget, experience and availability, our guide will point you in the right direction and have you (snow)suited and booted in no time.
Deputy Culture Editor-Travel and Culture Editor
Scotland isn’t exactly famed for its ski scene, but it should be. While we don’t witness much snowfall here in Glasgow, it is guaranteed the further north you go. CairnGorm Mountain itself is nestled right in the Scottish Highlands, around a 30-minute drive from Aviemore. Aviemore is the main town which serves the ski station, so there are plenty of hotels, lodges, pubs and restaurants to choose from. The Vault nightclub is also open until the wee hours of the morning, for when midnight just isn’t late enough. During the ski season, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle, which may or may not suit you; if you fancy staying somewhere a little quieter, Boat of Garten isn’t too far away.
Now, for the ski talk: 11 ski lifts provide access to 30km of ski runs. It’s a pretty even split among the green, blue and red runs, and three black runs and a small un-pisted area also ensure a little bit of adventure for the thrill-seekers among us. A freestyle terrain park is on offer too, for when you’ve got conventional skiing or snowboarding down to a fine art, or you’re just looking to change things up.
There are cafés at both the top and the bottom of CairnGorm Mountain’s funicular railway, meaning hot food and drinks are never too far off. The cafés are quite basic and feel a little canteen-like, but they do the job.
All in all, CairnGorm Mountain has everything covered: an even mix of runs means that there’s something for everyone, no matter your experience. The season typically runs from December to April, yet it does depend on the weather each year. The only downside is that it can get a little too foggy, but the views are splendid on a good day. Aviemore is lined with ski shops, and its rail station makes it easy to reach from Glasgow; perfect for students who love to ski!
Glencoe is situated on Scotland’s west coast and so precipitation is high, resulting in a long ski season and decent amount of snow. Its north-east facing slopes are kept in shade all winter, making for excellent conditions but pretty chilly riding. Once spring arrives around March, the sun is higher in the sky and the slopes are no longer protected by the shade. At this time of the season, runs will change drastically in a short period of time; going from firm and crisp to slushy and wet in the space of half an hour.
Glencoe is well equipped for anyone looking to stay for a few days. There is a campsite, hook-up areas for campervans, and pleasant cabins available for rent; all of which are situated at the foot of the mountain, in close proximity to the chair lifts. There are also two reasonably priced cafes/restaurants on site – one at the foot of the mountain and one at the plateau half way up. In addition to this, the mountain is just a short drive from nearby towns and villages: a slightly more upmarket hotel stay or dining experience is only a short drive away.
Smaller than the likes of Glenshee, riding is somewhat limited at Glencoe and there is no escape from the dreaded T-Bar lifts, much to snowboarder’s dismay. There are 20 runs in total, only two of which are blacks, so thrill seekers may wish to look elsewhere. As Glencoe is one of the easiest Scottish resorts to drive to from Glasgow, and it has a decent guarantee of snow, the resort is often very busy. Unless you arrive early in the morning and get first lifts, it’s unlikely you’ll get to make fresh lines.
Glencoe is one of Scotland’s more popular resorts and this is for good reason. It has one of the best guarantees of snow, plenty of local amenities, and is easily accessible from the likes of Glasgow. As long as riders are comfortable with crowds and camping, Glencoe has a lot to offer.
With over 2000 acres of varied terrain, Glenshee is Scotland’s largest ski resort. In comparison to Glencoe and Aviemore, the Glenshee season is limited; weather conditions vary and the resort is not particularly high up so it doesn’t always get its share of snow. On top of this, Glenshee covers four separate mountains and three valleys, some of which face south, so no matter how good the snow at Glenshee may be to begin with, if the sun comes out conditions will soon get slushy. South-facing runs vary extensively; you can ride down the most perfect run of your life and by the time you get back up to do it again, it can be like riding a completely different mountain.
Having said this, Glenshee visitors are spoiled for choice with 36 pisted runs and boundless areas of off-piste to explore. Lessons are available at the resort, so whether you’re the next Shaun White or a complete beginner on a heavy pair of rental skis, you’re going to find more than one run to suit you.
Amenities are few and far between around Glenshee. The local town is quaint but relatively ill-equipped and the on-site café is basic. Having said this, if you’re planning a ski weekend at Glenshee – the best way to take advantage of the vast resort – the Log Cabin Hotel is always a pleasant stay and it sits close to the mountains.
Freestyle at Glenshee is better than what’s on offer at most other Scottish resorts; there is a well-equipped park and an abundance of natural features for riders keen enough to hunt them down. On top of this, with the abundance of lifts and the width of the runs, it’s incomparably quiet – even during peak times – and you and your friends will often be the only people on your run. If you catch Glenshee on a good day, there’s nothing quite like it.