Location Snowdonia National Park
Distance from home 10 miles
Route Total distance 7km;
Total ascent 700m
Time 2 hours
We slide to a halt next to each other, eyes wide and filled with stoke, a powder-filled couloir from one of the country’s highest peaks lies behind us and the sun is only just starting to rise. Deserted mountains and untracked lines all around, we are holders of the best-kept secret – you can go ski touring and splitboarding in Wales.
Skiing and snowboarding in the mountains of Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, is niche. There is little scene, moreso a couple of friends with a sense of adventure and a high tolerance for discomfort and disappointment. Very occasionally we spot a pair of skiers on the horizon, but we have never met them, kindred spirits who share in the love of earned turns in your own backyard.
There is a unique set of challenges to this pursuit. With our highest mountains around 1,000m, there is not enough altitude nor are we far enough north to get a consistent snowpack. The conditions are ephemeral – much of the year the mountains sit snow free. Fresh snowfall typically arrives with gale force winds and zero vis. Windows of opportunity are measured in hours not days, and you must be ready to go at a moment’s notice, drop plans, drop work and grab the kit that sits packed and waiting in anticipation and go.
On the mountain the challenges remain. We travel fast and light to get as many descents as possible while conditions last, but keeping alpine kit to a minimum can lead to sketchy moments on the climbs. Sitting in the freezing cloud at the top of a line waiting for a few seconds clearance to make the descent is common and transitions involve avoiding getting sheep shit on your skins.
For those few who share the secret, these challenges are what makes skiing and snowboarding in Wales so special. It worms its way into your mind. Summer walks and climbs in the mountains have become scouting missions for new lines; will this gulley fill with snow? Will this face be rideable in a northerly wind?
Banana Gulley is a smash and grab classic, a dawn raid before work or squeezed into the tiny windows between heavy snow and thaw, when the sun peaks transiently out and illuminates our beloved national park in all its winter finery. The line is obvious – you see it as a beautiful curve, a white scimitar carved into the eastern face of Y Garn (947m). In full view as you drive north along the A5 it draws you in. Narrower than a board is long at the crux, this grade 1 winter gully climb is on the skiing and snowboarding tick list for those in the know. The journey starts at the car park at Ogwen Cottage (grid ref: SH 650603), the snow level determines whether it is skins or boots from here as you head up to the stunning Llyn Idwal surrounded by classic rock and ice climbs.
Taking the northern arm of Y Garn’s curved horseshoe the ascent is fast; it is debatable whether it is quicker to kickturn or bootpack up the steep ridge and snow conditions will determine your style of ascent. If you push it out you can summit in an hour, breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and the ocean to the west await you at the top. The entrance to Banana Gully lies just to the north of the peak. The guarding cornice, providing more of a fun obstacle than a true danger, drops you onto a 45/50-degree bowl that funnels you towards the gully proper; resist the urge to fully let rip here as lower on the slope it can be sharky and a proper tumble would not be fun.
Carefully negotiate the 100m of narrow crux, or straight line and charge it depending on your mood and the quality of the snow. The crux then opens out and the final widening descent allows fun quality turns down to Llyn Clyd Bach. High-fives all round, then transition for a skin north across the frozen lakes until you reach the ridge you ascended where you retrace your steps to the car. Two hours, all done and if you start the ascent in the dark you can be home in time for work.
The ravages of climate change now leave the mildest of our winters completely snow free. Upland areas in the UK have seen winter temperatures increase by an average of 1.5 – 2 degrees in the last 70 years and days with frost on the ground have dropped by 24%. Staying local not only cuts the impact of our adventures but stops us insulating ourselves from the impacts of climate change.
That winter (’20/21) was one of the best seasons for many years, but despite this, despite our dedication to seek every opportunity, I only managed five days of Welsh snowboarding. The best five days of my year.
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.