Last blast of winter for Scottish Ski Areas

This article was published on PlanetSki.eu on 8th April 2021. The original text is below.

Arctic air is in full flow and the prospects of foreign travel have been booted further into the long grass of late summer.  But fresh snow has fallen and, as restrictions on travel within the UK begin to ease, hopeful eyes are looking up – and north – for the prospect of some spring turns. 

The chances of lift-served skiing look very slim.  But spring touring in Scotland can be excellent.  In fact, spring had already sprung.  Late March saw a sustained period of high temperatures and sunny days.   Backcountry skiers and split boarders took to the mountains to ride some of the gully lines and corries most famous for holding snow.  At both Cairngorm and Glenshee it was possible to start skinning after a ten-minute walk from the car park.  Local residents flocked to make the most of bluebird days, picking up a suntan while earning some turns on soft spring snow.  

Now, up to 10cm of new snow has fallen in places with around the same again forecast to fall today on western mountains, including the Glencoe and Nevis massifs.  Where there was a consolidated base this has added a delightful dump of freshies on top.  

But careful route planning is required. Glencoe Mountain advised tourers via social media that while there was fresh snow in places, the deep freeze meant that, on Tuesday, “most of the mountain was a mix of boilerplate and blue ice. Even the lower slopes are challenging to walk on without crampons.”

Yesterday, Braemar Mountain Rescue Team was called out to assist an injured skier on Lochnagar. The skier was subsequently taken to hospital by helicopter. The mountain is famous in local backcountry skiing circles for its steep descents, Black Spout and Red Spout.  Across the Cairngorms, the avalanche risk remains at Moderate because of new accumulations and cornices forming, especially on southerly aspects above 900 metres. 

The good news is that the recent top-up means that steep corries and sheltered gullies can be expected to hold snow for a while yet.  British Backcountry is a guiding and instruction company specialising in off-piste courses in Scotland.  They are offering customers who missed bookings earlier in the season a chance to re-book onto specialist courses that will ride the steep gullies of Ben Nevis and Braeriach.  These courses will access the snow on foot or by bike and include dates into the middle of May.  

At Cairngorm, there is still very good cover on the upper mountain.   Once they get up on to the plateau, skiers and split-boarders will have a good few options.  At Glenshee yesterday, the signs of the recent thaw were apparent, with some of the routes that were skiable two weeks ago now broken.  But there are still decent lines holding up in Glas Choire and Banana Gully.  Further snow today will help to preserve these a bit longer too.  

At present, Scottish tourist accommodation is set to open on 26th April.  Notwithstanding the current election campaign and passionate discussions around Indyref 2, operators can’t wait to see an influx of visitors and friends from across the UK.  On 20th April, the Scottish Government is expected to confirm that cross-border travel, and travel within the Scottish mainland, will also be possible from the 26th.  If you are still determined to ski this winter, and you can get to Scotland within the next few weeks, you might just make the end of the season that never was. 

The Cairnwell Café sits half-way up the mountain at Glenshee.  In mid-winter it is normally rammed all day, with deft elbow work required to find a seat – and get to it without spilling your hot chocolate.  Yesterday it sat empty and the exterior signage seemed to have been slightly damaged in this week’s northerly gales.  Almost a metaphor for the winter we’ve just had, the fork on the sign sums up what this ski season has been like: battered and damaged, but still hanging on!

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