This article originally appeared in ‘Endless Winter’ The Reason 5.1 2013
It's March 2013 and after four solid months of snowfall, pretty much the whole of continental Europe is still getting battered. We've got five days to shred and need to get some turns in, so do we head for Chamonix? Tignes? Mayrhofen? Nope, we're heading north, into Scotland, that’s also having it's best season in decades.
Rome rider Cody Hierons and I head up the A1 from the south of England to pick up Thrashmore from the Dalikfodda Global HQ in Leeds, in a spanking new Land Rover Discovery. As we head further up the A1 towards Newcastle, it's obvious that this latest weather front is pounding the whole of the UK from Birmingham north and the total absence of other vehicles and three inches of packed snow on the carriageway makes us glad we have the sure-footed ness of the Landy. Once we're into the borders, it's even more obvious that we'd have got stuck without the 4x4 and eventually we arrive at the Rome Snowboards office in Edinburgh at 4am, six hours late. Despite the late (early?) hour, we're welcomed with beer and banter and we're grateful for both.
The plan for the trip was to visit each of the Scottish resorts in turn – Cairngorm, The Lecht, Glenshee, Fort William and Glencoe – but with just five days to accomplish the mission, and the serious amounts of snowfall to contend with, it's quickly apparent that we're not going got be able to fit it all in. Proceeding on the 'let's see what happens’ itinerary we head up the road to our first port of call, Aviemore, the town that serves the ski area of Cairngorm, the most well known spot in Scotland.
The best thing for any trip is a local to show you around, and we had one of the best: Mark Ruparelia, long time seasonaire and Scottish born and bred. Rupo’s been riding these hills for as long as he's been snowboarding. By the time we arrive, it's past midday and, reluctant to buy lift tickets for what's left of the day, we have a drive up the hill to see what we can see. It was commonly believed that the first sign of Global Warming would be the decline of the ski industries in the lowest lying nations that have winter sports, most notably Australia and Scotland, but if the conditions are to be believed, then we're entering a new ice age. I've been to Scotland plenty of times, but never have I seen so much snow and even what looks to be (whisper it), PO W D E R in places. All up the access road are easily accessible powder stashes and so, excited by the possibilities, we park up, gear up and get shredding. It's wind blown mostly, but in the gullies are a few patches of fresh, so we get shooting and manage to snag a couple of shots – SCORE.
Aviemore has dozens of B and B's and we had figured that as we were up during the week, there should be somewhere available. Dunroamin had been recommended to us by Jeremy Sladen from The Snowboard Asylum, based solely on it's breakfast and that was good enough for us. There were a couple of rooms available, so we took them, showered up and headed out for dinner. Being almost entirely dependent on tourism for it's business, there's plenty of places to eat in town, but we always seem to end up a the same place – The Skiing Doo, an old family-run spot that's been here for decades, serving simple, no-nonsense and above all hearty food. After several pints of Guinness and a couple of new-to-me-but-evidently-not-Rupo shots of Patron (a deadly mixture of tequila and coffee), we call it and head to bed.
True to form, the next morning saw Cairngorm totally shrouded in snow clouds and with a full on storm showing on the webcam, we decided to head further afield, reasoning that if everywhere was stormbound, at least we'd see a different place shrouded in ice and snow. The Lecht, which is located on the A939 between Grantown-on-Spey and Ballater is Scotland's smallest resort and often shown as a beginners-only ski area due to it's short, narrow runs that range up either side of the main road and are split across their width by snow fences that not only divided the runs, but do a great job of keeping the snow from blowing off into the North Sea. The Lecht may be small, but it has one of Scotland's best looked-after snowboard parks, thanks to Kenny, the owner’s son, who's as equally skilled on a shred stick as he is behind the controls of a snow cat.
At this point came the birth of Stunt Kid, aka Cody Hierons. With Rupo and Thrashmore a little more, erm, experienced than him, they decided that a guinea pig was required 'Ay up, Cody, you're first' said Thrashmore. 'Every trip needs a Stunt Kid, and you're ours'. With that, Cody got started slaying the rail and once they were satisfied that it wouldn't kill them, Thrashmore and Rupo got stuck in too.
By this point it was really puking. Our loose itinerary said we should head on as we had three more spots to visit – Glenshee about 45 mins south, and Nevis Range and Glencoe on the West Coast and more of a mission. Trying to dance with fickle Scottish weather is like herding cats – it just doesn't work – but we decided to head to Glenshee, so after driving through some beautiful country we arrive in the car park only to realise that the weather was even worse. After hair-arsing around the empty car park, trying to get the Landy to skid (it wouldn’t, traction control really meaning something on this beastie) we decided to head back to The Lecht to get a session in before the lifts stopped running for the day.
The snow on the climb back up the A939 was axle deep by the time we reached it and the local police were turning back smaller and non-4x4 vehicles, but they waved us through and the Landy just powered up the pass. The snow was even heavier by the time we got to the resort, so after a hot chocolate in the cafe, we were back out in it, sessioning the park until we get some shots and could call it a day.
We returned to Aviemore and the Dunroamin B and B and luckily they still had the same rooms available as the previous night, and after yet another evening at the Skiing Doo for dinner, we rounded the night out with yet more Guinness and patron in the bar below. Rupo is a bad influence.
Our continuing 'where to go'? dilemma reached a crescendo the following morning as we learned that snow continued through the night on Cairngorm with a solid foot of new snow and the weather forecast was for patchy sun throughout the day. It's not exaggerating to say that a sunny powder day in Scotland is something of a rarity, so we opted to stay put and ride Cairngorm again, rather than driving across country for a large part of the day, unsure what would greet us on the West Coast. This meant that we have to abandon plans to ride Glencoe and Nevis Range, but we resolve to come back another time to hit them up.
On the mountain, it was blissfully empty: just locals and the lucky visitors who had timed it right, but that's not to say that competition for the fresh wasn't fierce. The obvious spots got slayed quickly, and Rupo insisted that we head to the East Wall and Number One and Number Two gullies, where all the best snow gets caught and the fewest people ride. That's except for the knowledgeable locals and we spent the next few hours competing for the ever-dwindling powder stashes, shooting powder turns overlooking Loch Morlich and enjoying the goods that Cairngorms hints at but rarely delivers. We counted our lucky stars that we were here during the week rather than the weekend, as not only would we have had to endure monstrous queues, but all the snow would have been tracked out in minutes, rather than the several hours we've had to enjoy it,
We had so much fun that we stayed far longer then we should have, too late in fact to head back down south and so we returned – for a third consecutive night – to Dunroamin, where luckily we were welcomed back with open arms. After the inevitable journey to the Skiing-Doo for dinner and Guinness, this time with intent and the inevitable end-of-trip booze-up happens. Half a dozen pints and most of a bottle of Patron later, we're tucked up in bed, dreaming of powder, breakfasts and coming back next year...
Dunroamin B & B
Amazing B & B offering everything you want – great prices, amazing breakfasts and a friendly welcome. A quiet, family spot, not really suited to all male groups or those wanting to party.
Scotland's best-known resort with a healthy local scene and a decent town nearby to go at night (something that won't be found elsewhere in Scotland). Good on hill facilities, but can be a little weather prone. Definitely worth a visit and a lot of fun when it's on.
The smallest ski area in Scotland, but also the most friendly. Brilliant use of the terrain and one of the country's most fun and well maintained shred parks.