Ski a Scottish gully

Boot up and huck a drop into Scotland’s epic gully scene, says Andy Townsend. There’s white gold in them there mountains…


The Scottish mountains are among the oldest in the world and, like a fine wine, they have got better with age. Years of erosion and weathering has exposed the mountain’s arteries and veins, and they fill with snow, creating a smörgåsbord of lines for skiers of all abilities. From gentle hero runs like Cairngorm’s Lucher’s Gully at a friendly 12°, to the nerve-jangling 50° of Lord’s Gully on the mighty An Teallach, Scotland’s gullies are the ‘whiteline highways’ to ski ecstasy. 

It is perhaps the rock walls, which define a Scottish gully, that intensify the experience, heightening the skier’s senses. For some, the challenge of skiing these improbable ski lines in control and style is the motivating factor. For others it the sheer number of available lines, coupled with their easy access, that makes them so much fun.  

Warning: once you inject yourself into the Scottish gully scene, addiction and obsession is guaranteed.  


Scotland has so much choice for the gully connoisseur and what was once a niche part of skiing is now mainstream, as climbers surrender their hold on grade 1 and 2 climbs to skiers seeking a unique descent line. Probably the two most reliable and accessible gully skiing venues are the east and west Highlands. 

On the east is the northern Cairngorms near Aviemore. The rocky cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda are easily accessed from the ski area either in 90 minutes with skins from the car park or, if the lifts are running, within 30 minutes by effortlessly contouring around the Cairngorm summit. The classics of this coire are the dog-legged Aladdin’s Couloir and the narrow and dramatic Jacob’s Ladder, both 37°.  

If you fancy going a tiny bit further across the plateau then Diagonal 36° and Y Gully 38° lead down to Loch Avon, and bigger gullies, like Castlegates and Pinnacle Gully, slice their way down the imposing cliffs of Shelter Stone and Carn Etchachan.

I am based on the east and the gullies around Loch Avon are my happy place – skiing between granite walls looking down on the ultramarine blue loch is candy for my soul. 

Over on the west, the gondola at Nevis Range will lift you effortlessly to the gullies of the east and west face of Aonach Mor. The amazing Bold Rush gully, which sits between the rocky ribs of the west face, is usually well filled in with snow, but will often require an abseil over a short icefall, adding a touch of alpine drama to your descent. 

For the aspiring gully skier a visit to the towering north face of Ben Nevis is a must. An hour and 45 minutes of gentle walking from the north face car park outside Fort William (less if your guide has a key to the forest gate) and you can be eyeing up some of the most famous whitelines in the UK: tower gully (48°) and Number: 5 (38°) being the pick of the bunch. 

Check out Kenny Biggin’s excellent guidebooks for Nevis Range and Glencoe.


Timing is everything. The Scottish gully scene is anytime from December to late June, but is most reliable in the spring months of March and April, with consolidated snow and longer days. Becoming a nerd and following the SAIS avalanche reports and weather forecasts is vital for selecting your hunting ground. Some folk will follow the social media sirens, but it is better to do your homework.

Hiring a qualified and certified British mountain guide is the best way to access the gullies that suit your abilities and conditions. Check out British Mountain Guides working in Scotland. 


Skiing gullies is about having lots of tools. Obviously you need a reliable jump turn – a well practiced and controlled turn will give you the confidence to commit to the steep slope. Sometimes you have to go straight and fast, sometimes you have to jump or ‘huck’ a drop, but most of the time you are carefully picking your way down using sideslipping and short turns to control your speed. 

As well as skiing skills you need to have the more basic skills thoroughly dialled. Taking off your skis mid-gully and attaching crampons might sound simple but it is actually pretty tricky. 

There is always much debate about skis and boots, with lots of contradictory options. You won’t need super-fat skis, something reasonably stiff up to 100mm underfoot is perfect. Touring bindings need to be well serviced and fitted so they don’t pre-release and send you sliding. 

Don’t worry about the super-lightweight fancy kit and instead go for something solid and reliable.


Boot the chute. It might be old fashioned, but climbing the gully before skiing is a great way to scope out the hazards and pick you hero photo locations. 

Useful resources: 

Andy Townsend is an IFMGA mountain and ski guide based in the Scottish Highlands. Introduced to the mountains very young his parents never released that this enjoyable pastime would evolve into a career. He is the Head of Skiing at Glenmore Lodge and guides on skis and foot for Infinity Mountain Guides