On its day Scotland can offer some truly spectacular skiing, that can rival many places. Think riding t-bars whilst looking down magnificent glens, or sipping hot drinks in mountain cafes as you shelter from the wind, and you're not too far off the reality. Scottish skiing conditions are unpredictable, to say the least. If you live nearby and can go at short notice when things look good, the several ski areas are a tremendous asset, but booking a holiday here as a replacement for your usual week in the Alps is just too risky.
Most of the slopes are best suited towards the intermediate. However, black runs such as 'Fly Paper' in Glencoe, or 'Tiger' Glenshee can challenge even the most adept visitor.
For novices who are really keen to learn, Scotland could make sense, especially if you live nearby. You can book instruction via one of the excellent outdoor centres, many of which also provide accommodation. The ski schools at the ski areas themselves are also very good.
Snowboarding is popular, and all of the ski areas have some special terrain features, but maintaining these facilities in good nick is problematic. When the conditions are right, the natural terrain is good for freeriding.
CairnGorm Mountain is perhaps the best-known resort, with 11 lifts and 30km of runs. The small town of Aviemore is the main base (with a shuttle-bus to the slopes). Eateries include the Winking Owl, a ‘modern gastro-pub’. The slopes are accessed by a funicular from the main car park up to Ptarmigan at 1100m. There’s a ‘short but impressive’ terrain park.
Nevis Range is the highest Scottish resort, with 20km of groomed runs on the north-facing slopes of Aonach Mor reaching 1190m. It has 11 lifts plus a long six-seat access gondola. Away from the slopes the ungrommed 'Back Corries' can offer the powder hound some amazing lift access lines. There are many B&B's and hotels in and around Fort William, 10 minutes away by bus.
Glenshee is the largest ski area, with 40km of runs spread out over three minor parallel valleys served by 22 lifts, including a chairlift link to the Cairnwell cafe and the slopes in that area. It has some natural quarter-pipes. Glenshee is primarily a venue for day-trippers, though there are hotels, hostels and B&B's in the area.
Glencoe’s seven lifts and 20km of runs lie east of moody Glen Coe itself. We get a steady dribble of reports from experienced reporters impressed by the whole deal – ‘A truly wonderful experience,’ says one. A double chairlift and a drag go up to the main slopes, including the nursery area.The cafe at the base serves ‘traditional hearty fare’, the isolated Kings House Hotel is 2km away, and the award winning and very popular Clachaig Inn is situated nearby at Kinlocheven.
The Lecht is largely a novices’ area, with 13 lifts and 20km of runs on the gentle slopes beside a high pass, with a series of parallel lifts and runs above the car parks. With a maximum vertical of only 200m, runs are short. There’s extensive snowmaking, a terrain park, and a day lodge at the base. The village of Tomintoul is 10km away.
We update our snow reports for the five Scottish ski areas every weekday by early afternoon from the end of November to the end of April. If you want to check the conditions direclty with the resort, and especially as conditions and lift operations can change rapidly in Scotland, then visit Ski-Scotland.