Aspen, Banff, Chamonix, Mont Tremblant, Innsbruck — ski destinations all. Cairngorm, The Lecht, Glenshee, Glencoe, Nevis Range? Those might not be so familiar. Mountains and glens of Scotland which enchant when covered with wildflowers in summer become fine and quite varied territory for skiing and snow boarding when winter comes.
Snow comes earliest in the east, to The Lecht and Glenshee, and lingers longest in the western Highlands of Glencoe and the Nevis Range. Cairngorm, the most northerly of Scotland’s ski areas, lies toward the center of the country and so is likely to benefit from snow conditions at both times. Early snow may begin in October and linger long into April.
Cairngorm is located in the midst of a national park. It offers striking terrain through which to ski, board, or sledge (sledging is better known as sledding in North America). There are runs from difficult to easy for skiers, there’s instruction for beginners, and a funicular railway up the mountain that skiers and non skiers alike enjoy.
Glenshee, further to the south, is the closest ski area to Edinburgh. It is also Scotland’s most extensive area set aside for skiing, ranging over four mountains and three valleys. With that comes a variety of terrain from very difficult to bunny run. Glenshee is a particular favorite of telemark skiers. The Lecht, also in the eastern Highlands, is a destination especially friendly to families and beginning skiers, with gentle slopes and runs, pricing discounts for young skiers, snowmaking equipment to keep boarders and skiers, and even at times those riding tubes down the slopes, going strong. A day lodge with a range of activities and eating options will keep non skiers happy as well as they take in winter mountain landscapes.
In the western Highlands, Glencoe comes with associations of history as well as dramatic mountain vistas — and Scotland’s steepest on piste run, the Flypaper. There are other challenging runs too, among them Rannoch Glades and the Wall. Borders will find challenging terrain as well, with many cornice jumps and steep drop offs. There’s plenty of room for easier trails, too, and for sledging, as well as on mountain cafes to enjoy.
Nevis Range is on Aonach Mor, in the western Highlands north of Glencoe. The skiing ranges from difficult and breathtaking runs in the Back Corries to gentle slopes near the Snowgoose Restaurant. The Snowgoose is reached by mountain gondola, an experience in itself, and the Goose often hosts ceilidhs with music and good fellowship and dancing in the evenings. On Aonach Mor, you’ll be face to face with Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. It is well worth the trip to see the Ben in winter from the slopes of Aonach Mor even if you don’t wish to ski
Though each of these ski areas is within day trip distance of at least one of Scotland’s larger cities — Glenshee and The Lecht are closest to Perth and Edinburgh, Cairngorm to Aberdeen and Inverness, Glencoe to Glasgow, and Nevis Range to Inverness — they each have towns near the slopes which offer lively atmosphere. Winter weather in Scotland, as elsewhere in northern Europe, can be quite changeable, something to consider as you are out on the slopes and to consider as well as you are planning where to stay. Ice and snow and wind conditions will at times shut down road and rail travel in winter, and roads may be closed overnight in some areas depending on weather.
Planning a trip in summer, or just not a fan of snow and skiing? Visit these areas in summer, and you may have the chance to see the mountainsides covered with wild flowers. There are many sports events available in summer, too, including hiking and mountain biking, and the gondola and the railway and the cafes and restaurants are almost always in full swing for summer visitors as well.
To learn more about skiing in Scotland, check out Visit Scotland’s overview of the ski areas
Just in case you would like to ski in summer while you are in Scotland, check out SnowFactor just outside Glasgow. You’ll not find the silence or beauty of the mountains, but, well, there is snow year around.
photographs were made by Steve McKenna, and are courtesy of Cairngorm Mountain Ski Area
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