Skiing in Scotland

Scotland is home to the only natural mountain resorts in the UK and some seriously underrated skiing terrain. So, we had a chat with Lonely Mountain Skis' head ski maker and die-hard Scottish skier, Jamie Kunka, to find about more about the world of skiing in Scotland.

🌍: Nevis Range, Scotland   ⛷: Finbar Doig   📸: Robert Grew

What is skiing in Scotland like and what is your favourite part?

When you mention Scottish skiing in conversation, the old adage will often appear "if you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere!'. This account for the majority of the time when you head out in driving wind to ski on boilerplate ice, crust, or over heather and slush. Perhaps a combination of all of those conditions in one day. Eventually, you learn to enjoy that and when a good day comes with lovely soft snow, visibility and sun, you feel like you have struck gold and it's such a wonderful feeling. Pair that with the Scottish highland scenery, which varies greatly from east to west coast, and you will likely have a day you will never forget.

🌍: Nevis Range, Scotland   ⛷: Finbar Doig   📸: Ed Smith

Which ski resort in Scotland is the best and why?

I am very loyal to Glenshee, as it was where I first learned to ski. On a day where everything is open, it's Scotland's biggest resort. It was also a right of passage and coming of age in my family when you could first ski 'The Tiger' (a steep un-pisted run) top to bottom without wiping out. It's a great resort, with a lovely variety of pistes, good access to side country and touring nearby. In recent years when the snow has been better over west, I have also fallen in love with the Nevis Range. It has a particularly fun and exciting area just off the top lift known as the Back Corries. The Back Corries offer big bowls and gulleys, as steep as you like as far as the eye can see. It often sports incredible cornices, which you have to jump off or navigate through to get into the bowls. Often a big crowd will form until someone goes first into the unknown, on many occasions you may disappear into a funk of cloud-only, to be reborn on the other side in a massive powder field. One of the great things about all the Scottish resorts is the archaic lift infrastructure, then the idiosyncratic and heroic characters who keep the machines running in all weathers, often by hitting things with large spanners.

🌍: Nevis Range, Scotland   ⛷: Finbar Doig   📸: Brodie Hood

Skiing in Scotland vs The Alps, what do you think are the benefits?

Skiing in Scotland definitely has a different flavour to the alps. If skiing in the alps is like Tartiflette and red wine, skiing in Scotland is deep-fried haggis and whiskey. Often harsh, crunchy and unrelenting, but in many ways more satisfying. Why would I choose to ski in Scotland over the Alps? Well, because on a good day skiing in Scotland, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Perhaps it's the fact that the good days are rare, or maybe it's the thrill of having such awesome landscape and skiing terrain so close to home! It's also a chance to explore our own country and see areas we haven't seen before, meet the locals and enjoy a pint of beer in a cosy pub afterwards. With some careful planning and a camper van or B&Bs, you could head up to Scotland, have a great little tour of the ski areas over a few days, then perhaps get the touring skis on and bag a few Munros in the process.

🌍: Nevis Range, Scotland   ⛷: Finbar Doig   📸: Brodie Hood

This season has had some of the best snow in years, but some years have limited or no snow. When can you go skiing in Scotland?

We have been really lucky this year to get some decent skiing in after a slow start. Seasons seem to be getting later and later here in Scotland but at least if you look hard enough you might still be able to ski tour into May down some slush gulleys. February, March and April often boast the best conditions for skiing in Scotland. With the resorts spanning east to west, you can choose the best one that week or even that day. For example, the snow might be a lot better over to the west one day and perhaps the next week better over to the east. You just have to keep an eye on the forecast and webcams!

🌍: Glenshee, Scotland   ⛷: Jamie Kunka   📸: Alun Callender Photo

What is your most memorable Scottish skiing adventure?

One of my memorable adventures in the highlands was when I headed out on my first ever ski tour, to bag a few Munros with dad near Glenshee. I was on my first set of Lonely Mountain Skis. These were a simple steam-bent ski made of Ash, with a wooden base and metal edges (one of them is still in Aviemore's Glenmore Lodge and is now a shot ski). They had a tremendous amount of rocker on them, which made climbing with skins quite hard, but descending a joy. We skid along a sunny plateau until the time came to drop into a Coire below. We dropped into the steep side of a gully sending prime spring sluff in all directions. I'll never forget how the sluff sparkled when it caught the sun. When we hit the Coire floor we cruised back down next to a small burn to get back to the car a few miles away. In the distance was a lone figure dressed in all in tweeds with leather boots and cross country skis skiing up the Coire. As we skid past the lone figure, we said good afternoon and it was at that point I realised it was Prince Charles. Soon after we passed his royal highness, my homemade blend of wax wore off the wooden ski bases and the skis suddenly slowed down to a snail's pace. For sure a memorable first day out ski touring in Scotland.

🌍: Glenshee, Scotland   ⛷: Jamie Kunka   📸: Alun Callender Photo

What is a classic day in the life of a Scottish skier?

Every Scottish ski adventure starts with a road webcam check, to see if it's looking snowier east or west coast. Then the classic morning drive to the resort of choice. I'm lucky to live in the centre of Scotland, so it's easy enough to head either east, west, or north to ski. You chuck everything in the car put the music on and then drive over to the ski resort. This is often one of the best bits, as you slowly climb in altitude and the scenery begins to become more and more spectacular. Glencoe is particularly great for an awe-inspiring approach to the resort. A grumpy man will show you the best place to park when you arrive, then you join the queue to get your lift pass. Then skis on and you get onto an archaic but charming lift which takes you to the top of the windswept mountain. If you're lucky you will have the holy trinity of Scottish skiing. Good snow, visibility and the opportunity not to be blown off your feet by the wind. On your way down enjoy the piste or head off into the side country to see what it has to offer. It will often look different day-to-day as the weather changes the shape of the snow cover. I tend to look for a section of off-piste that's easy to get to from the lifts, lap it until I get tired and hungry, then pop into the cafe for the classic pie, beans and chips.

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