The ski area at Glencoe must have one of the most stunning views of any winter sports venue. Meall a’ Bhuiridh, the mountain on which the 19 runs and 7 lifts are set is right on the edge of Rannoch moor. The last soaring peak before the flat, wild expanse of peat bog, pools and open heather moor. This setting means that on a clear day you see, not only mountain vistas, but rock and ice dropping away to a vast golden sea of wind-blown grass and heather ringed with mountains: Shehallion visible to the East and the Crianlarich Hills to the south.
Glencoe may not have the expanse of runs, vertical decent or reliable sun of the alps, but it certainly does adventure in spades. To ski in Scotland you need to be prepared for every eventuality, the elements really can make themselves known, but when the clouds part and the sun breaks through, it is glorious.
When I ski in the alps I enjoy the never-ending, smooth, wide pistes for a day or two, and then I get bored and start to long for the variety and challenge that is Scottish skiing. A friend doing a ski mountaineering course in Glencoe years ago was told, ‘Basically there are four types of snow: the first is white snow and this is the stuff that you are all familiar with; next there is grey snow – that’s ice, you can ski on that; then there is brown snow – that is heather and it’s fine to ski on; but you do need to be careful with black snow, because that is rock.’
I hope I am not painting a bleak picture of Scottish skiing, I certainly don’t mean to. I feel extremely affectionately towards it. Having a preference towards mountaineering anyway, it is really a happy medium with extra adventure but without the uphill slogging. Sometimes I take an ice axe, crampons and map and compass up with me for a pootle up a few extra peaks. From the top of the peak above the ski area at Glencoe, the Munro Meall a’ Bhiriudh, there is a beautiful arête that takes you onto a long ridge with steep cliffs on one side and three peaks, including another Munro, Creise. It goes without saying that you need to know what you are doing in the mountains if you want to do this – but there are plenty of guides based in the area who would be willing to take you out and about for a wild day in the winter hills.
I can’t finish this post without a nod to the wildlife of the area. In winter red deer are pushed down from the mountains and into the glens and, especially when there is a hard frost, are often seen close to the road. Ptarmigan can be seen around the summits and look out for dainty little snow buntings in groups where wind has cleared snow from the ridges. You might even see a white hare hunkered down behind a rock.
And of course one of the attractions of a day out in the Scottish hills is always the banter in the pub afterwards, and Glencoe is blessed with the wonderful Kingshouse just below the ski area, and the fabulous Clachaig at the other end of the glen. Both steeped in mountain history with old wooden skis and ice axes adoring the walls and countless real ales adorning the bar.
Glencoe Ski Area 01855 851 226