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A Beginners Guide to Snowsports in Scotland

For some, the thought of hurtling down a snowy slope on a ‘plank’ or two, with only two poles (if you’re skiing – no such luxury for snowboarders!) to help you stay upright, might seem unsettling. But learning to ski or board in Scotland is easy.

Learning to ski at Cairngorm Mountain

Learning to ski at Cairngorm Mountain © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

If you’ve never experienced a ‘bluebird’ day at one of Scotland’s five mountain centres – where crisp, perfectly groomed snow, bright blue sunny skies and awesome views conspire to captivate – then you’re really missing out on one of the country’s finest winter experiences.

The thought of skiing or boarding might seem scary at first, but if you follow our steps below, we’re sure you’ll be flying down our winter slopes with confidence in no time.

Step 1 – Exercise

Yoga by Loch Faskally, Perthshire

Yoga by Loch Faskally, Perthshire © VisitScotland/Julie Howden

Skiing and snowboarding is a great workout – and good for generating endorphins and feelings of well-being – something that’s increasingly important in the busy world we live in. If you’re not that active, then it’s worth doing some leg-strengthening and balancing exercises, which will make your trip to the slopes all the more enjoyable. Start off gently and build up gradually.

Step 2 – The mat to mountain approach

Midlothian Snowsports Centre, Hillend near Edinburgh

Midlothian Snowsports Centre, Hillend near Edinburgh

It’s easy for learners to begin skiing or snowboarding on real snow at our five mountain centres and at Snow Factor near Glasgow. However, starting off at your nearest artificial slope, where you slide a little more slowly on artificial mats, is also a good place to begin. This gives you time to perfect your stopping and turning and to get used to using ski tows.

All artificial slopes offer equipment hire, so don’t go spending lots on gear until you’re sure snowsports are for you.

Artificial slope centres often run trips for their customers to the mountain centres in winter and of course are also ideal year-round venues for maintaining and refining your skills.

Step 3 – Take some lessons

Learning to ski at Nevis Range near Fort William

Learning to ski at Nevis Range near Fort William © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

We can’t recommend this highly enough – you’d do it for golf and fishing right? So why not skiing and snowboarding?

Highly skilled and qualified instructors can be found at all artificial slopes, Snow Factor and the mountain centres and they can help develop your technique and build your confidence. You’ll progress through snow-plough stopping and turning, to parallel turning and then more advanced skills in no time.

Check out the Ski-Scotland Learn to Ski video for some tips.

All centres offer beginners’ packages, which include uplift, equipment and lessons – just check availability with your nearest centre. Remember to arrive at your chosen centre around an hour before your lesson is due to start to get kitted up.

Step 4 – Stay safe

Stunning views and cloud inversion from Glencoe Mountain

Stunning views and cloud inversion from Glencoe Mountain © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

For your own safety and that of others around you, whether you’re on an artificial surface or snow, always follow the Skiers Code of Practice and make sure you stay within the marked snowsports area. Ski patrollers are always happy to advise on safety matters.

Step 5 – On the mountain

Amazing views over Glenshee Ski Centre, Aberdeenshire

Amazing views over Glenshee Ski Centre, Aberdeenshire © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

If you’re following the mat to mountain approach, then remember that sliding on snow is faster than sliding on an artificial slope – adjust your stopping and turning accordingly! If it’s your first time at a mountain centre or Snow Factor, then it’s worth booking a few lessons, so you can get used to sliding on snow.

If you’re not ready to invest in equipment, then all centres hire out skis, boards, boots and in some cases ski suits and helmets. Remember equipment hire is very busy at weekends, so always book in advance or hire kit nearer home and bring it with you. When booking, have your height, weight, shoe size and ability information to hand, so you get the right kit.

Step 6 – Wrap up warm

The Lecht 2090, Moray Speyside

The Lecht 2090, Moray Speyside © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

Wear several layers of clothing (avoid cotton) to stay warm and wear a waterproof jacket and leggings, waterproof gloves and we’d recommend wearing a ski/snowboard helmet too. Also bringing goggles or sunglasses and lip balm. It’s also worth taking a small rucksack with you to store your essentials.

Step 7 – Look like a pro

Skiing at Glencoe Mountain, Lochaber

Skiing at Glencoe Mountain, Lochaber © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

Follow these tips and you’ll look like a seasoned skier or boarder on the hill.

  1. Do your research. Sign up for Ski-Scotland snow alerts, follow the Ski-Scotland Facebook page and check the latest snow conditionstravel and weather reports before setting off.
  2. The secret to enjoying Scottish snowsports is being ready to go at short notice, when conditions are at their best. Our maritime climate and smaller mountains mean that snowfall can sometimes vary.
  3. Mountain centre car parks fill up fast at the weekend, so arrive as early as possible to get parked. Arriving early also gives you more slope time!
  4. Fill your car with friends – it’s better for the planet, your wallet and car parking overall.
  5. Better still, avoid car travel altogether and do even more for the planet. Regular train services run from the central belt to Aviemore and Fort William, and there are connecting bus services to Cairngorm Mountain and Nevis Range.
  6. If you can, opt for a midweek trip to the mountains. The slopes, ski tows, equipment hire and cafés are usually much quieter and there’s more space and time to have fun!
  7. It’s quicker to use cash when paying for ski passes, equipment hire and refreshments. Card machines rely on phone connections which are sometimes slow in mountain areas.
  8. To avoid café and restaurant queues and maximise your slope time, think about eating early or after the main rush is over.
  9. Once you have the skills and experience, heading for the higher slopes will help reduce congestion lower down, and you’ll enjoy your experience and views more.
  10. Points 6 – 9 are especially important during the school half term in February.
A snow groomer at Glencoe Mountain

A snow groomer at Glencoe Mountain © Steven McKenna/Ski-Scotland

Why ski or board in Scotland?

  • You don’t have to be rich (or famous) to ski or board in Scotland. Great value day, multi-day and even season passes are available.
  • Don’t jet off to Europe or the US, especially with the weak £GBP making trips more expensive, Ski-Scotland and enjoy all that’s here on your doorstep!
  • For UK-based skiers and boarders, costly travel insurance is not required, and there’s no need to worry about currency exchange.
  • All five mountain centres are easily reached from the central belt and there’s a great network of artificial slopes across the central belt and in Aberdeen city and shire too.
  • Lessons and tuition from highly experienced instructors are available at all mountain centres.
  • When conditions are good, it’s well worth booking an overnight stay and spending a few days in the mountains. There’s a wide range of friendly local accommodation near each resort to suit your requirements and budget.
  • The snowsports season is broadly similar to that of European resorts and usually runs from December to late April depending on snowfall and weather. All five mountain centres can make snow with on-site Snow Factories and snow cannons, which help top up snowfall when required.

So what are you waiting for? Visit our snowsports section, then round up some friends and family (kids especially will have a (snow)ball!) and head for Scotland’s snowy slopes this season.

 

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