Last week I went skiing. I drove there on the left, and I didn’t take my passport, change any money, take out insurance or get on a plane – I just drove north for a long time, and hit the slopes in Scotland. It was my second time, and I loved it.
While the UK is having a lot of newsworthy rain, wind and waves, Scotland’s fantastic snow isn’t getting much of a national mention. But it’s falling regularly, and I can report that it’s truly superb underski. As the Glencoe ski report stated last week (and it’s the same this week), ‘there’s no need to worry about runs: there’s so much snow you can ski anywhere.’
Yes, the snow was superb – deep and crisp and even. And that was good, because I might as well have been wearing a blindfold – the cloud was thick and impenetrable, and as the bank holiday crowds appeared and disappeared through the fog, and queued through it for significant amounts of time (thanks to it being half term), it became apparent and delightful that no one cared a hoot. When you come skiing in Scotland, you have to shift your priorities.
When skiing, the stakes are high – holiday is limited, the travel, ski hire and accommodation are expensive, and the one thing you can’t control – the weather – can make or break the experience. What’s more, skiing can play havoc with the self-esteem, and bad conditions are the last thing you need.
The famous French, Swiss or Austrian ski resorts are vast, and this helps with the risk. On a cloudy day you can ski in lower areas where the trees might help with visibility. On an icy day choose south-facing slopes; on a spring day head high for firmer snow. And if all else fails, take it up with the management or your insurance, or cut your losses and head for the spa, the crazy golf, or the boutiques.
Not so in Scotland – and believe it or not that’s what I really love about it. In Scotland you get what you’re given, and you make your own fun.
People know the names of the pisteurs, and appreciate their hard work. There’s a palpable sense of pride, but no delusions – the weather alerts are incredibly honest; no one gains from getting skiers here on false pretences. With this proximity to the workings of the resort you can see how much effort it is to run a ski area. Machinery is precious, snow takes time to clear, weather is fickle, safety is crucial. And when you can see the inner workings of something, it’s hard not to be all the more grateful for it. “Be prepared to have fun – even if the sun doesn’t shine every day!” advises the Visit Scotland ski website, and it certainly seems to be the case. People come knowing that they need a good attitude, and nothing makes for a better day out than a lot of people with good attitudes. And nice snow helps…
It’s not that everyone is a sunny pushover – but even when people don’t like something they really get involved. Altogether it’s a much more personal experience than being one of thousands of visitors to a mega resort.
Perhaps it’s like the difference between going a long way to get to Disneyland – the trip of a lifetime, where everything just has to be perfect – or getting excited when the fair comes to town.
And, it turns out, whisky and haggis are easily as satisfying as mulled wine and fondue…
I went skiing in Glencoe: www.glencoemountain.com
There’s lots of info at ski.visitscotland.com and you can also sign up to snow alerts. There’s a very active forum at www.winterhighland.info which is worth a look around – and you quickly get an impression of the passion there is for Scottish skiing.
Where to stay – I stayed at the Ballachulish Hotel www.ballachulish-hotel.co.uk which was cosy and majestic at once, with delicious food and kind staff, many of whom were keen and knowledgeable skiers.
Where to après – I had a little après ski at the Clachaig Inn www.clachaig.com – a game of pool in front of an open fire, and dedicated clientele to chat to.