LifestyleEmbrace the Thrills of Skiing in Scotland

Embrace the Thrills of Skiing in Scotland

Published February 2, 2024

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

For many British skiers it’s the final frontier. Not the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, nor the island of Hokkaido in Japan, nor even the volcanic peninsula of Kamchatka in Siberia, but Britain itself.

You’ve probably heard rumours that it’s possible to ski in the Scottish Highlands. You may even have met a Scottish skier who’s regaled you with epic days to rival the Alps. But unless you actually live within half a day’s drive of those weather-beaten mountains, it could be unlikely that you’ll have anything more than a sketchy idea of where or how to do it.

Does Scotland have ski resorts like they do in the Alps?

Scotland offers lift-assisted skiing in five places: Cairngorm Mountain, Nevis Range, Glenshee, Glencoe and the Lecht. None is a resort in the Alpine sense of the word — with hotels, apartments and chalets attached. In winter they’re simply ski areas set in high and remote areas in the Highlands with the infrastructure to offer piste-skiing and snowboarding when conditions allow — and, in the case of Glencoe, a sledging run too. Expect the odd chairlift, one gondola and rather more T-bars and button lifts, as well as a day lodge that sells lift tickets and rents out ski and snowboard equipment. All five offer at least one cafe, too, and quite a lot of car-parking space — although it’s often not enough when conditions are exceptional.

With the exception of Nevis Range, all the ski areas offer ski lessons, which you’ll need to book in advance. Nevis Range can recommend local instructors who can be booked independently.

The very thought of skiing in such places may strike fear and loathing into the hearts of the champagne-and-canapes set. But if you like your outdoor adventures raw and wild, you’ll love their unvarnished atmosphere and the sense of space that yawns out wide, beyond the pistes. You’ll probably like the low food prices, too. Take Glenshee’s base-lodge cafe, Tea@theShee, for example. At the time of writing, its black pudding baps were retailing at an inflation-proof £3: unchanged since 2018.

In terms of overnighting, there are two exceptions to the no accommodation rule. Glencoe offers heated wooden micro-lodges with a separate toilet and shower block close to the car park. Meanwhile, Nevis Range has the Base Camp Hotel at the bottom of its mountain gondola. Usually, however, skiers will stay in a nearby tourist-friendly town or village: Fort William for Nevis Range, Ballachulish for Glencoe, Aviemore for Cairngorm Mountain, Braemar for Glenshee and Tomintoul for the Lecht.

How big are the ski areas?

Glenshee has the biggest on-piste ski area. When conditions are good, there’s around 25 miles of skiable trails here, ranged on either side of the Cairnwell Pass near Braemar.

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