A guide to ski holidays in Scotland

Newsroom Most Popular A guide to ski holidays in Scotland

When Brits start planning a ski trip, there’s an eternal question that needs answering. Mainland Europe or America? But, that forgets that you can go skiing right here in the UK. It’s time to discuss Scottish skiing.

Before the advent of cheap flights, Scottish slopes were the only place most Brits got a taste of alpine adrenaline. Then people flocked to mainland Europe in the 70s and forgot about Highland skiing. However, in recent years, thanks in part to some excellent conditions, Scottish skiing is back in vogue. So here’s everything you need to know before planning a trip.

An excellent day on the slopes at Glenshee, 2020. Photo: Shutterstock

Where can you ski in Scotland?

There are five major resorts in Scotland and these sit in two separate clusters. Glencoe and Nevis Range are on the west coast of Scotland relatively near Fort William. The other three resorts: Lecht, Cairngorm Mountain and Glenshee (Scotland’s biggest resort), all sit within the Cairngorms national park in the eastern Highlands.

There’s also a relatively minor ski centre, Lowther Hills, in the south of Scotland. It’s the closest resort to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but has just two lifts and six runs.

When can you ski in Scotland?

Scottish skiing resorts are usually open from December until April – however, dates are not set in stone and depend on quality of the season’s snowfall. Unlike mainland Europe where December openings imply skiing at the start of the month, things get going later in Scotland, and resorts often won’t open until Boxing Day.

Like most alpine pursuits in the northern hemisphere, February and early March get the best snow on average. Furthermore, if you’re there during school holidays or the weekend and there’s quality snowfall the resorts will pack out quickly. Therefore, we recommend travelling during an off-peak time, where possible.

What’s the skiing in Scotland like?

If you’ve only ever been skiing at major European resorts, don’t go to a Scottish resort expecting the exact same experience. Firstly, none of the resorts are that big. The largest, Glenshee, has 36 runs in total. Compare that to Val Thorens in France with 88 runs, and you start to see the difference. Then there’s the slightly different style of terrain – with very little tree cover here, it’s akin to Scandinavian mountains.

That’s not to insult the Scottish skiing experience, it has its own character to enjoy. There’s a polite and convivial atmosphere on the slopes, people are really happy to be skiing in Scotland! Cairngorm mountain is known for its excellent backcountry area, for anyone keen on touring. The views you’ll take in while doing so are virtually unmatched.

Skiiers at Glenshee in Scotland beneath chairlifts
A busy day at Glenshee. Photo: Shutterstock

Also lots of Scottish resorts are extremely snowboarder friendly, they don’t have the same arrogance towards boarders that frequently rears its ugly head in Europe. If you want to get some serious air, then check out the park on Cairngorm Mountain, with a half pipe that can match most in Europe.

One final perk, is that if you or a child is taking lesson, then their instructor is guaranteed to speak fluent English.

Is skiing in Scotland reliable?

Put simply: no. The skiing is excellent when the snow delivers, but that’s not guaranteed. If you’re planning a large trip far in advance, you’re ultimately better off going abroad. Although you’re leaving the UK, a trip to the Alps from London might end up both cheaper and include less travel time than heading to the Cairngorms.

Annoyingly, resorts have been known to struggle both with too little snow and too much! That’s because the centres operate with a relatively small team of staff, who can struggle to clear snow from roads and lifts quickly.

Scottish skiing is better suited to people who can plan a trip last minute, taking advantage of good conditions (which can be tracked on our OnTheSnow app).

What else is there to do at Scottish ski resorts?

Scenic view of snowy Nevis Range
Gorgeous views at Nevis Range. Photo: Shutterstock

Rain, and lack of snow might be a possibility, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit inside twiddling your thumbs. There’s plenty of other fun to be had at these resorts, such as hiking, mountain biking, wildlife spotting and more.

Where to stay at Scottish ski resorts?

There are plenty of hotels, B&Bs, youth hostels and self-catered accommodation options at all five Scottish resorts. If you’re after luxury, allow us to recommend the Bridge of Orchy hotel for Glencoe – although it’s closed at time of writing for refurbishment until February 2022. If you’re on a tighter budget try Braemar Youth Hostel, just a short drive from Glenshee.

There is no ski-in-ski-out accommodation at any of the Scottish resorts.

How to get to Scottish ski resorts

This depends on what resort you opt for. Some, like Lecht and Glenshee have no public transport provision at all, so if you’re not driving, you’ll need to rely on taxis. (This is particularly challenging in the case of Glenshee, which doesn’t have heaps of parking provision, so you’re best arriving early.) Whereas Glencoe, Nevis Range and Cairngorm Mountain, are easier accessed by non-drivers.

Train going through snowy Scottish countryside
The Caledonian Sleeper heads near some of the resorts. Photo: Shutterstock

Glencoe and Nevis Range are both relatively close to Fort William, which is served by the famed Caledonian Sleeper train, that departs from London Euston. Although the journey time is 12 hours, you can do it in (relative) luxury if you opt for the Caledonian Double room, which comes with an en-suite. Similarly Cairngorm Mountain is only 9 miles from Aviemore, which also receives a Caledonian Sleeper service.

Touch of trivia

Snow in Scotland might not be the most reliable, but boy do they know how to talk about it if and when it arrives. Academics have found that Scots have a whopping 421 words for snow. A few of our favourites:

  • Flindrikin – a slight snow shower
  • Unbrak – the beginning of the thaw
  • Skelf – a large snowflake
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