Superb ski touring on Ben Lawers
Here is my Sunday Mail outdoors column featuring a superb ski touring day on Ben Lawers. You can see the pdf or read the copy below.
Ski touring on Ben Lawers
Stopping for a quick breather halfway up a mountain in Perthshire, I look back over my shoulder and spot the clear route of our earlier ski run.
The slope is covered in a thick blanket of pristine snow except for four double tracks snaking beautifully downhill.
These are our ski lines – but after the enjoyable descent we have now returned to the more tiring pursuit of “skinning” up.
Thanks to the “skins” – strips of grippy fabric attached to the base of the skis – we are able to ski uphill.
I settle into a rhythm of walk-gliding upwards and take the opportunity to look around at the stunning winter landscape, including the mountains of Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers high above and Loch Tay far below.
I relish the tranquillity of the winter playground and the chance to chat with my partner, Gordon, and two friends Nienke and Michael.
If ever I doubted the wonders of Scotland’s outdoors playground, today my only thought is: “I would rather be nowhere than here.”
Ski touring is on the rise in Scotland and it is easy to understand why.
With the ability to ski up and downhill and explore a vast back country landscape, many people are investing in their own touring skis and kit.
For safety, it is vital that skiers know how to properly read weather and avalanche reports.
It is also good idea to attend one of a large number of winter skills courses so you are prepared for the dangers of off-piste skiing.
If you are new to ski touring, you could choose to go out with an experienced guide.
Unusually for Scotland, which often suffers fickle weather, a fair forecast was predicted for a Saturday in January.
The good snow encouraged many thousands of skiers and snowboarders to head north of the central belt, with the majority choosing one of the Scottish ski resorts.
Reports later of long traffic queues at the ski centres and busy up-lifts made us glad we were able to take advantage of our own touring skis.
While the five resorts do offer some superb ski runs and plenty of facilities, our dream was for a peaceful location far from the crowds.
Arriving at Ben Lawers range at nine that Saturday we immediately know we have made the right decision.
The mountains all around are resplendent in a deep coating of the white stuff and there is hardly another person to be seen.
Seeing that the road to the walkers’ car park is impassable by car, we decide instead to put on skis and skin up.
We laugh at various signposts meant for motorists that comically tell us there is a “passing place” or “danger of ungritted tarmac”.
Leaving the road, we choose a route through fresh snow up the flank of the rounded mountain.
We glide forwards, one behind the other, stopping every so often to agree on the next point of focus.
While the skins aid the grip of the long skis, the now steeper incline leaves us breathless and we talk less.
As soon as one of us requests a short breather, we are all happy to stop and take in the widening views.
We can hardly believe we are skiing in Scotland because the winter terrain is so picture perfect.
Having reached a height of some 650m we decide to enjoy a bit of downhill skiing.
The snow looks fresh and as we peel off the skins and reset the ski boots to have a fixed heel, we anticipate the fun of the powder conditions.
We are not disappointed. Making new tracks in fresh snow is one of the most amazing experiences for a back country skier.
The downhill is short-lived, however, and we soon regroup close to the uphill tracks we made earlier.
We unravel the skins from our backpacks, attach them once again to the base of the skis, unclip the boot heel and set off to walk-glide back uphill.
We climb higher this time and then ski down again eventually crossing a lower area, Coire Odhar, to cross a stream that is hidden beneath the snow.
We add the skins again and make our way up the other side of the corrie, slowly but surely gaining height.
We spot another couple of skiers in the distance, heading on to the summit of Beinn Ghlas at more than 1000m.
In search of our final descent line, we pop over the top of a ridge line and look down towards our parking spot near the loch.
Taking the skins off one final time, we each head off to enjoy the longest downhill ski of the day.
Fresh snow, a beautiful late afternoon sun and the laughter of my friends lift my spirits to a new height.
This has been the best day of skiing in Scotland that I can remember.
Also read: Best day of Scottish skiing.