Skiing in Scotland: How to beat the crowds
When the snow comes, skiers and snowboarders flock to Scotland’s five resorts, especially at the weekends. Of course they do! Scotland with snow is a magical place to be, especially when the weather is clear and fine. But what if fancy a quieter resort and speedier access to the slopes?
Here are my top tips for beating the crowds for a super day of skiing or snowboarding in Scotland.
Set off early: Leave home and arrive as early as possible at your chosen ski area so that you can avoid the busiest road traffic and jump the queues. You will then ensure you get a place in the car park, hopefully as close to the ticket office as possible. Why not car share and reduce the numbers of cars on the road, too?
Stay overnight: Beat all the morning traffic by booking accommodation nearby or at the resort the night before. If you have a campervan or motorhome you can find a convenient spot close to your preferred ski area (but make sure you park up responsibly). Better still, why not make use of the campervan hook up at Glencoe or Glenshee for even easier access to the slopes?
Make a break of it: Treat yourselves to a short break away for skiing. You could enjoy a couple of nights, or longer, in towns such as Aviemore, Fort William, Blairgowrie, or the village of Glencoe. Ballater is also perfectly placed for reaching The Lecht and Glenshee, while Grantown-on-Spey is a good option for two resorts, CairnGorm and The Lecht.
If the snow is good why just make a day or it when you can make the most of a few days of it?
Do a road check: Whether you set off the night before or on the day, it’s important to check the conditions before you leave. Roads and mountains can change quickly and you do not want to be caught out in bad weather while driving to a Scottish ski resort.
A good place to check is Ski Scotland conditions to see what is open and where. The information is regularly updated by the resorts and webcams show real-time images.
Don’t be put off: If you check Ski-Scotland conditions you might see, particularly midweek, that some lifts are shown as “expected to open” but very often staff are readily available and the lifts will open subject to demand. Skiers and snowboarders shouldn’t be put off heading to the slopes because if there are enough customers, more lifts will run.
Reserve ahead: You can reserve ski equipment and ski school places, as well as book tickets, before you set off. This means you know you will not miss out on valuable skiing time because you have everything booked ahead.
Hire elsewhere: While all the ski resorts have ski equipment available for hire, at busy times you might like to rent from another outlet en route or before you leave. Do a Google search to find a ski equipment hire outlet near your home or on the way to the ski resort.
Tips for hiring: You will lose valuable time for skiing and risk the crowds building up if you do not know a few important details for hiring kit, including your height, weight, boot size and skiing/boarding ability. Remember to do the same for children. (Note: Do not guess these details or exaggerate your ability because it could be dangerous to hire the wrong kit.)
Take cash: Paying by cash is far quicker than a card. Credit card machines rely on phone connections and these can be very slow in the mountains, especially at mountain restaurants. You can pay for lift passes, equipment hire and refreshments by cash if you remember to take out money before you set off.
Pack a snack: If you arrive at the ski resort after a few hours of driving and you are all hungry you will waste valuable time – and see the crowds build up – while you head to a café or restaurant to eat. If you eat en route, or have a snack to pop in your pocket, you can get straight on to the slopes.
Avoid eating at lunch-time: The slopes will be quieter at lunchtime when everyone else heads into a café or restaurant to eat. Choose to eat your lunch early or late and enjoy skiing while everyone else is busy eating.
Head high: If you are a competent and experienced skier or boarder, you will avoid the busier lower slopes by heading to higher slopes or areas that are further from the beginner pistes. This also alleviates the pressure on the easier-graded slopes, which will be enjoyed by less experienced skiers and boarders.
Ski back country: Many of the Scottish resorts offer great access to some superb back country. You do need the right kit, including back country skis, skins, an avalanche transceiver, probes and a shovel, as well as the knowledge of how to use these in an emergency, but the joys of crowd-free back country exploration are almost limitless.
At Nevis Range, you will also find unpisted itineraires within the patrolled area. These offer a good introduction to unpatrolled back country skiing.
If you are new to back country skiing, sign up for a back country workshop or transceiver park familiarisation sessions, which are available at some areas.
Stay late: If you can, ski until the lifts close. You should be aware of what lifts will close, and where they are, so that you are able to safely get back to base but if you ski right until the lifts shut you are far more likely to be among only a few skiers and boarders. That is because everyone else will be skied out and heading home.
Go mid-week: You might be lucky. Maybe you are a freelancer or self-employed, or perhaps you work flexi-time, or maybe you do shift patterns. If you can, ski the resorts mid-week when they will be far quieter than weekends and holidays. Keep your eye on the weather and plan to get up and go when the conditions look great. It is rumoured that some people throw a sickie to make sure they get a crowd-free ski day during the week but I wouldn’t be encouraging that, now would I?
Book for next year: It might seem like you are jumping the gun but the best queue buster of all is to buy a season ticket for next year. Ski-Scotland is funded by the sale of all-areas season tickets, which go on sale around the end of October. There are a limited number available so get in quickly.