Leeds Mountaineering Club Blog

Skiing in Glen SheeApril 2013


Last week saw that rare and magic alignment of good snow and good weather in the Scottish Highlands.

After returning from Kintail, I spent most of the week looking at webcams and forecasts; praying that it would hold out until the next weekend for some Scottish skiing.   Conditions looked amazing, and I got pretty distressed by a wobble in the forecast on Tuesday that suggested it would all breakdown by Saturday.    But by Wednesday night it was looking good again, so the plan was on!

I decided to go to Glenshee, not only because it looked to have the best snow, but also it has got by far the most extensive lift system with a large variety of runs and access to a huge area of terrain.  It is also much better organised than Cairngorm.   So no fighting for lift passes in the morning or ridiculous lift queues. Setting off from work at 3 pm on Friday, the 6 hour drive up to Braemar where I’d booked into the Youth Hostel went in no time at all, as most of it was in the daylight.

The next morning, I was up at 6.30am, along with the rest of my dorm-mates – all up for the skiing other than a bewildered Japanese woman who must have wondered what was going on.  By 8.10 am I was up at the ski centre and had my lift pass, and was able to get on the first lift, which started at 8.20 am.

The snow was in absolutely amazing condition considering it was nearly 2 weeks since the last snowfall.  It could have fallen in the last two days, as the cold temperatures had kept it dry and powdery.   There was an enormous depth of snow, with some of the lift stanchions buried to within 3 metres of their tops.   Glenshee’s fleet of 5 piste-bashers had been hard at work, and had pisted virtually every marked run in the ski area, producing beautiful squeaky corduroy.   Off-piste could best be described as trying to ski across a building site; with a hard surface of brittle wind-formed ‘sastrugi’.  

I headed straight over to Glas Maol, which boasts Britain’s longest marked run – a 2 km long red run from near the top of the 1068 m high peak.  It also has possibly the world’s longest drag-lift to get to it!  It was an absolutely fantastic run down, as good as anything in one of the big Alpine resorts, and virtually empty first thing in the morning.  One advantage of its system of drag-lifts is that Glenshee’s pistes are never crowded.  

After a few repeats, I then did the unpisted red direct from the summit, followed by the West Wall black run, which had also been left untouched by the piste bashers.   The latter had developed an impressive mogul field, the like of which I’ve never seen in Scotland.  It initially looked quite intimidating, with elephantine bumps followed by a drop-off on the hardest line.  I stuck to a middle line, with more modest sized bumps, which turned out to be quite friendly as the snow was nice and grippy. The bottom half of the run is a long natural half-pipe feature, which was brilliant fun, with the cruddy snow giving just about the right amount of challenge.


I also enjoyed the great collection of shorter pisted red runs from Meall Odhar in the next valley along, again on perfect snow.   After lunch, I made a brief foray to the other side of the ski area around Carn Aosda and the Cairnwell.  Here it was a completely different story, with the slopes catching the full heat of the sun and the snow already very slushy or scraped down to an icy base.  I had a look at the Tiger; the black run off the top of the Cairnwell which is supposedly Scotland’s hardest marked run. Its icy moguls glistened like teeth in the sun and along with the ‘Expert only’ signs giving dire warnings of its difficulty left me happy to leave it for another day.  Its rickety looking one-man chairlift also looked fairly hardcore!

After two or three runs in the slush, I headed back to Glas Maol and Meall Odhar for the rest of the afternoon.  The weather looked to be coming in in the Northern Cairngorms, with snowclouds on the horizon, but Glenshee kept its own bubble of blue skies and sunshine right to the end of the day.  I hung around for the last lift up Glas Maol and a quiet final run down, before working my way back to the carpark for 5 pm.   It had been surprisingly tiring spending the whole day on drag-lifts, and with cough which had started on the drive up rapidly turning into a chest infection, I was feeling pretty shattered and ready for an early night.

Sunday dawned a very different day, with fog down to valley level and snow steadily falling.   There seemed less of a rush to get going in the morning, so after a leisurely breakfast chatting to my hostel mates and dosing myself up with Paracetamol and strong coffee, I got up to the ski centre for 9.15 am.   I was surprised by how busy it was again, and I felt like a bit of a softy Sassenach for having even thought that people wouldn’t be out skiing in these conditions.   The visibility was very poor in the morning; a chance to work on those ‘Jedi skiing’ skills of getting down stuff by feel when you can’t tell the difference between sky and snow or up and down.  As the day went on, the cloud base lifted, and the accumulation of fresh snow gave an added bonus.   I finally packed it in at 3.30 pm, and treated myself to a slice of banoffee pie in the café before heading home.

All in all, Saturday was one of the best days skiing I’ve had this year and had made the long drive up well worth it, although two days skiing with a chest infection is probably not what the doctor would have ordered, and I’m now suffering a bit as a consequence (this article is written from my sick-bed…).  

There is still masses of snow up there, and the Scottish skiing season is not over yet.  Last year the best conditions of the whole season were at the end of April, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on those forecasts if you fancy a cheeky last minute weekend of skiing.


Cath Sanders


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