Pack your bags and get set to explore the Scottish Highlands
From the Lowther Hills ski club’s two humble drag lifts, to the sprawling web of 22 tows and chairlifts at Glenshee, lift-accessed ski terrain in Scotland is more expansive than you might think.
There are six lift-served ski areas of varying size that make for great springboards into the wilderness beyond.
The terrain for ski touring in Scotland extends across the Grampian Mountains and on up through the Northwest Highlands.
There are 282 Munros (mountains higher than 914m) and there is a vast amount of terrain that collects snow throughout the winter.
So on a good snowfall (or if you’re willing to bring your hiking boots), the possibilities for ski touring are endless.
* For the ski mountaineer… Ben Nevis
Scotland’s highest mountain tops out at 1345m and is home to the legendary, gully-scarred north face. The steep skiing enthusiast will earn their stripes here, taking on one or more of the Ben’s seriously steep entry chutes.
* For the explorer… Northwest
The Northwest mountains occupy a somewhat mythical status among Scotland’s skiers, with limited information on routes and conditions available. Yet for the intrepid ski tourer the goods await you, with tales of 1000m descents on good snow days. The Torridon mountains are covered by the SAIS bulletin with some information on routes available on steepscotland.info – this is a good place to start.
* For the opportunist… Ben Lawers
Just a couple of hours’ drive north of Edinburgh and Glasgow the highest mountain of the Southern Highlands offers some brilliant touring terrain close to the central belt. You can often skin straight from the car park at 600m and with many aspects to collect snow, the grassy landscape is ideal for touring with a mixture of rolling and playful terrain to explore.
* For the freerider… Nevis Range Back Corries
A freerider’s paradise with a range of entry points (go as steep as you dare), a wide open bowl below and a quick lap round via a traverse and chairlift or hike, the Back Corries from the top of Aonach Mor are as good as it gets on a Scottish powder day.
* For the enthusiast… Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorm plateau provides infinite possibilities for all levels of ski tourer. The low lying routes from the Cairngorm Mountain car park at 600m are excellent options on stormy days with reliably filled in burn lines giving cruisy descents from the basin of Coire an Lochan and from the top of Lurchers gully.
The ski resorts are usually open from December through to early April, but this varies depending on snowfall. The best time to catch the ski touring in Scotland is in the spring, once the bitter weather has receded, the snow depth and stability has improved, and the cornices have fallen away for entry to steeper lines. Snowfall often begins in November however and north faces can remain in condition through to June. The key is to have your bags packed and to be ready for the day the snow hits.
With fast-changing weather and variable conditions, exploring the mountains in Scotland requires homework and planning. Here is a quick list to get you started.
Snow and avalanche information:
* Scottish Avalanche Information Service – sais.gov
* For the avalanche bulletin and the SAIS also have a great app, Be Avalanche Aware, which has really useful navigating and route finding tools and tips.
* MET office – metoffice.gov.uk
* Mountain Weather Information Service – mwis.org.uk
* British Backcountry Facebook Group – updated regularly throughout the winter and the best resource for updates on local conditions.
* Scottish Off Piste Guidebooks: Glencoe or Nevis Range & Ben Nevis by Kenny Biggin – an excellent resource for learning lines and touring routes.
* Steepscotland.info – a comprehensive list of routes and lines with maps, photos and insider knowledge.
The folks you need to help you sniff out the best conditions… For example, Glenmore Lodge (glenmorelodge.org.uk) run a range of backcountry courses for people looking to explore the wilder side of skiing… and they do very good cake back at base. The Black Crows Wild Ski Weekend takes place here in March and invites all ski touring enthusiasts to celebrate snowy adventures, gear and beer. Kit available to hire.
The guides at British Backcountry run day touring and overnight trips throughout Scotland, adapting locations to the changing snow and weather to find you the best conditions. Kit available to hire. In November the British Backcountry team brings the community together for a pre-season psyche up at the Winter Opener with talks, films and workshops to brush up on your navigation, snow safety and rope skills.
Ski touring kit is available to rent at the following shops and locations:
* Craigdon Mountain Sports: Perth and Aberdeen
* Ellis Brigham: Aviemore and Fort William
* Cairngorm/Braemar Mountain Sports: Aviemore and Braemar
* Tiso: Aviemore and Perth