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Winter Sports in Scotland: Let the Games begin!

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We’ve been counting down the days until the XXIII Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games begin and luckily we don’t have to wait much longer. From 9 – 25 February, coming from PyeongChang in South Korea, you’ll see the world’s winter sporting elite compete for a cherished Olympic medal.

If the Games inspire you to have a go, then did you know there are a number of winter sports you can try right here in Scotland?

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

Snowboarders in the Back Corries at Nevis Range

Snowboarders in the Back Corries at Nevis Range © Steven McKenna

There are five mountain snowsport centres in Scotland. Located across the central Highlands and in west Aberdeenshire, they’re easy to get to from Scotland’s Central Belt and the north of England and you don’t have to worry about costly overseas flights, hanging about in airport terminals or expensive baggage charges, just grab some friends, jump in the car and go!

Learn to Ski or Board in Scotland

If you’re new to snowsports, then Scotland is the perfect place to learn. The often-used motto ‘if you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere’, holds true and learning here will stand you in good stead for future overseas adventures.

Learning to ski or board can seem a bit daunting at first. So here are some tips from our resident BASI Alpine Level 4 ITSD instructor, Derrick Thomson that will make your day out more rewarding.

Learning to ski at Glencoe Mountain

This is what not to do! But all it takes is practise. Learning to ski at Glencoe Mountain © Steven McKenna

Before you go

Ask a friend – if you know someone who already enjoys Scottish snowsports, don’t be shy – ask them about what to expect! Maybe you can invite yourself along on their next outing?

Fitness – skiing and boarding can be tiring when you first start, as muscles fight against each other as you develop skills. Consider heading to the gym to build up your fitness and leg, arm and back strength. On the slopes, stay within your comfort zone and don’t push too hard. Accidents are more likely to happen when you are tired. Stretch beforehand and warm down afterwards.

Snow and weather conditions – when snow and overhead conditions are good, there is no finer place to be than in Scotland. Our snow conditions and weather however can sometimes be a bit temperamental! So it’s always best to keep an eye on snow conditions and weather reports and sign up for Ski-Scotland snow alerts.

Travel – check Traffic Scotland road reports before you go and where possible, car share with friends. It keeps costs down, has less impact on busy centre car parks and you can enjoy the craic on the way up and recount tales of your exploits on the way home … or sleep, if you’re not driving!

Fun for all the family! Learning to ski at CairnGorm Mountain

Fun for all the family! Learning to ski at CairnGorm Mountain

On the slopes

Lessons – never underestimate the value of having a few lessons to get you started. They’re a great way to develop skills and technique quickly and safely. Where possible, make sure your instructor is BASI qualified. Your first few lessons should be in a beginners area and you’ll then progress to graded runs starting off on green (easy), then blue (moderate), red (intermediate) and black (difficult). Any slope hazards are identified by black and green or black and yellow poles. Consider taking out third party and recovery insurance, just in case you have an accident.

Clothing – common sense applies! Wear waterproofs as you’re likely to be in contact with the snow a fair bit! Wear layers of clothing to keep warm. Many centres hire outerwear, which is a good option if you’re still deciding whether to ski or board more regularly. Also take goggles and a scarf or Buff to protect your eyes and the lower part of your face.

Food and drink – all centres have on-site cafés, selling hot food, snacks and drinks, but it’s worth taking a small rucksack with some water and snacks to top up those energy levels during the day.

Modern equipment – is well made and when maintained correctly, helps minimise accidents. Make sure you have or hire the correct skis or board for your height and weight. Children (and adults too for that matter) should wear a suitable helmet for safety – some centres insist that children wear these when joining lessons. Walking in ski-boots takes some practice, but most modern boots have helpful separate walk and ski settings.

Uplift – if this is your first time on the slopes, don’t head for the first lift you see! Book a lesson and learn the basics in a safe, instructor-led area. There are several ways to get up the hill and your instructor should take you through these. Most are straightforward, but Poma’s or button tows take some getting used to. The Lecht has a ‘magic carpet’ conveyor lift, which is ideal for beginners.

Costs – expect to pay around £35 for a full day pass, though most centres offer half day passes too. Ski/board and boot hire can be around £20 – £25 per person. Add to that travel and food and refreshments. It’s generally better to pay by cash at the centres, as card transactions can be slow and you want to spend as much time on the slopes as possible!

Above all, remember to enjoy your day and have fun!

Each of Scotland’s mountain centres has a Ski School on-site and there are other schools and instructors based nearby, so you won’t be stuck for a tutor. Find out more on our lessons and hire page. Snow Factor, Scotland’s real snow indoor centre near Glasgow and a host of artificial slopes across the country also offer tuition in friendly and safe venues.

Cross-country Skiing

Backcountry skiing in the Cairngorms National Park

Backcountry skiing in the Cairngorms National Park © Glenmore Lodge

Alongside downhill skiing, cross-country skiing on Scotland’s snowy mountains is on offer for experienced and suitably equipped enthusiasts. Guided courses with Glenmore Lodge are a good way to get started. You’ll also find Britain’s only purpose-built, all-weather Nordic centre in the Aberdeenshire town of Huntly, which caters for all levels, from novice to elite. If snow conditions are good, high level trails in nearby Clashindarroch Forest are used. If not, then it’s on to a 400 metre all-weather mat, or forget the snow and have some fun roller-skiing along an 800 metre tarmac track.

Curling

Indoor curling is a popular winter sport in Scotland

Indoor curling is a popular winter sport in Scotland © iStock

Scotland is arguably the home of curling, with traditional bonspiel’s on frozen local ponds rooted in our history – the earliest recorded mention dates back to 1541. Those roots often bear fruit at the Winter Olympics with previous medallist-teams led by Rhona Martin, David Murdoch and Eve Muirhead. This is a very accessible and fun winter sport and there are a number of ice-rinks and clubs across the country where you can try it. Be careful though, as you’ll undoubtedly get hooked! The Royal Caledonian Curling Club website has more.

Skating & Ice Hockey

There are over 20 rinks spread across Scotland offering all sorts of fun on ice. Some only offer curling, whilst others also offer skating and ice hockey. So, if you fancy yourself as the next Elise Christie (our PyeongChang 2018 short-track hopeful from Livingston), then get along to a rink near you and skate your cares away.

Biathlon

Another fascinating and challenging Olympic winter sport you can try in Scotland, which combines the endurance athleticism of cross-country skiing, with the skill and millimetre precision of rifle shooting, is biathlon. Courses, led by former six-time Olympian biathlete Mike Dixon, are available at Glenmore Lodge.

Sled Dogs in Winter

Sled dog racing in Glenmore Forest near Aviemore

Sled dog racing in Glenmore Forest near Aviemore © iStock

Though not an Olympic sport (yet!), it would be remiss not to include sled dog experiences as one of the amazing winter (and summer) activities you can try in Scotland. The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre near Aviemore offers exhilarating safaris and sled dog courses amidst outstanding scenery and is the only daily working sleddog centre in the UK and one of only five in Europe.

Find out more about Scotland’s winter sports.

 

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