This article was published on PlanetSKI on 17th February 2021. Click here for the published article:
We all recognise that guy skiing through the resort in the evening. We’ve spotted him on our way to dinner. We’ve wondered just how lost he must have got to still be on skis at this time, our own kit long since discarded in boot rooms and strewn over chalet radiators. We’ve even seen him on our way home from dinner as we shuffle over compacted ice, weighed down by too much Tartiflette. But we’ve never seen him on the streets of a Scottish suburb on a Tuesday evening. Until now.
With over 1 metre of snow falling to low levels in much of eastern Scotland last week, I had the rare pleasure of skiing to and from my own front door several days in a row. Granted, there was no hallowed couloir or Lofotenesque summit-to-sea descent. But the satisfaction of exploring my local area on skis, seeing the routes of my daily lockdown walks transformed under a blanket of fresh powder, put this once-in-a-decade ski experience firmly in my top ten things-to-do-on-skis.
A visitor to Dundee might easily miss Camperdown Country Park, one of the city’s hidden jewels. So-named after a battle during the French Revolutionary War, it has long been known amongst locals as a place to walk in ancient woodland, take photos of the iconic 19th century mansion house or, until recently, play golf. It has been tipped as a potential location for the next Eden Project. What it is not generally known for is being an off-piste mecca of giant powder pillows and tree skiing. Now don’t get me wrong, the La Grave of Scotland it is not. But after a skin up through snow-laden pines, the park’s gentle incline and impressive views towards the River Tay and Fife made for a surprisingly exciting couple of short ski-tours; the perfect antidote to long work-at-home sessions stuck at a laptop screen in the spare room. Regrettably, the only après available was a solitary can of IPA lurking at the back of the fridge.
Judging by a quick scroll on social media, I was not alone. At some point during lockdown every mountain-lover, even the most noble among us, has come close to un-friending someone who lives in the Alps or the Highlands and can access the peaks we crave without breaking travel restrictions. But suddenly, and for a few precious days, this joy was shared across most of the country. The Pentland Hills surrounding Edinburgh, the Ochils near Stirling and the Lammermuirs to the south: for the first time in a decade, Scotland’s low-level hills, normally no more adventurous than an afternoon with the local Ramblers’ committee will allow, were turned into ski resorts. Across the country, skiers and boarders, desperate for some turns and deprived of almost two seasons’ worth of trips, burst out into whatever local greenspace they could find. Only it wasn’t green. Local parks, forest trails and basically any public space that wasn’t completely flat, it seemed, got a mention on British Backcountry.
Skinning back up through Camperdown, her century-old trees weighed down in white, it seemed to me that the most natural way to move through this stunning environment was on skis. It was only in returning to the civilization of my village and skiing past the Co-op that I started to feel awkwardly out of place and drew more than a couple of raised eyebrows from neighbours walking dogs (and at least one dog). With temperatures nestling well below zero, the snow stayed cold and the blue skies and sunshine that accompanied the high pressure from the east made it feel like we had stolen a little bit of the Alps. For reasons unknown, this pleasure felt guilty.
But, like everything stolen, eventually it must be given back. With milder air moving in the big thaw has begun and lower-level terrain has turned into a muddy mess redolent of the slushiest ‘back to resort’ ski run on the last week of the season. Spring is about to be sprung. But it brings light too, and not just in terms of the lengthening days.
This recent snowfall came on the back of what has been a decidedly good winter in Scotland. Cold conditions have prevailed since December and, while a low-level thaw means that there will certainly be no more skiing on the golf course, it should mean some much-needed consolidation of the snowpack higher up. There will be a loss of cover on the lower mountain, but the constant new falls had led to very unstable conditions with high avalanche risks sustained over the week in some of Scotland’s most popular touring areas.
Snow is forecast to fall above 500m later this week and the mountains will not exit full winter mode just yet. In years with comparable levels of winter snowfall, the spring touring has always been excellent. In 2010 many of Scotland’s corries had deep snow accumulations well into May and Cairngorm Mountain ran a rope-tow on Midsummer’s Day.
We just might be lucky. Travel restrictions might just be eased before the last of the white stuff has gone. So long as you don’t mind a bit of walking or mountain-biking to start your day, it looks like there will be excellent turns to be found on the Scottish mountains for a while yet.
I, for one, can’t wait to put my ski boots back on the first chance I get. But I know it will be a long time before I’m ever again doing so at my own front door.