Lauren MacCallum is the General Manager of Protect Our Winters UK, an environmental activist and splitboarder residing in the Cairngorms National Park. Here she reveals her favourite local ski tour…
Location Cairngorms National Park
Distance from home 6 miles
Route 10km; total ascent 800m
Time 3 hours
In 2010, 2020/21 and, most recently this past December, we were graced with the conditions to play on a snow-covered Meall a’ Bhuachaille, just 10kms from Aviemore, on our skis and splitboards. These are moments that will never be forgotten, especially as the hill is a mere 810m, making it particularly vulnerable to the ever-changing winters that we continue to see. It is a rare occasion that sees us being able to tour the ‘Boocal’, but when conditions are right, it brings the community to its feet. As one of the most accessible hills from Aviemore, during the infamous 2020/21 season, this spot was frequented by avid ski tourers, splitboarders and snow dogs as much as possible, with the opportunity to ride the nose with Loch Morlich in the background, and down through the granny pines waiting patiently for people’s descent. Not only accessible geographically, but a nice mellow hill inviting all abilities of tourers looking for a magical line through the trees. The touring community here is strong, connected, loyal and ready at a moment’s notice to ride the ‘Shepherd’s hill’ (its name translated) if the snow allows.
For this tour, we were up before the sun rose on a chilly morning – beating everyone to the parking spots beside the Reindeer Centre. Taking the road on foot to the left of this, we started breaking trail just as the pine forest begins. A distinct path takes you through the forest, which is the usual walking route up the hill, and when covered with snow, it is the easiest route through the open face and up to the saddle between Meall a’ Bhuachaille and Creagan Gorm. Here the ascent becomes a little steeper, so it is worth hugging a contour line around 600m up, and then slowly aiming up to the nose, unless you need to bag the Munro on the true top (you don’t if you are powder hunting).
Riding south along the nose line, just below you on the SE aspect, lives a forest of pines of all ages, including grannies (hundreds of years old), that have been waiting decades for us to cruise by them, over their roots and under their branches. It is a magical feeling and a tree line that can rival, or more realistically remind you of, British Colombia.
It is the gradient that allows for mellow powder turns and the chance to take in the view as you go – Loch Morlich to your left and Ryvoan Bothy to your right (although not possible to spy it from this angle). It is short and sweet, as you aim to hit the jeep track, rather than continuing to ride down to the Green Lochan path. From here you can choose to pop the skins back on and hike back up for another lap – I recommend you have as many laps as you can. You never know in Scotland when the snow will disappear! To get back to your initial start point it’s a lovely loop, following the jeep track back down into the forest to hit the road to the reindeer centre.
Meall a’ Bhuachaille is a special spot; every summer it invites hikers of all walks and in the rare winter when covered in snow it is an easy but mega-rewarding tour that allows you to slow down and soak up nature. You can start this tour at sunrise and still be back for breakfast if you can tear yourself away from the trees.
But these are rare seasons that allow it, as the era of consistent snow seasons has gone. If we don’t come together to champion solutions or challenge the status quo, then the intensity of Scottish ‘feast or famine’ will only increase, leaving the days we live for few and far between – but once you’ve experienced the magic of this spot, I hope you’ll do your best to protect it.
The Fall Line Backyard Epics series is supported by Patagonia
There’s a delicate balance to moving through the mountains under your own power. And whether it’s effort to access, effort to protect, or effort to inspire, we’re documenting the dedication it takes to get to — and care for — the high places we play. Show us how you’re fighting for fresh tracks by tagging #EarnedTurns in your photos.
Thanks for sharing this season of Backyard Epics with us. Our aim was to champion the local communities that we are working passionately to support and protect our UK snow playgrounds for generations to come.