Artificial and indoor ski slopes in Scotland provide an obvious stepping stone to Scotland’s ski resorts – and, then, potentially to travelling abroad to ski. I have been chatting to some of the skiers and snowboarders who have found many benefits in Scotland’s Mat to Mountain progression.
What is Mat to Mountain?
Although there is no official Mat to Mountain programme in Scotland, the concept describes the progression of learning on one of Scotland’s artificial or indoor “real snow” slopes.
Many people have relatively easy access to a local artificial slope where they can learn the basic skills and techniques of skiing and snowboarding. Regular coached lessons, both one-to-one and groups, at the artificial slopes help people to grow in confidence and ability.
The slopes are also open year-round, which means people can continue to learn in spring, summer and autumn in preparation for the snow arriving in winter.
While artificial ski slopes allow skiers and snowboarders to gain many tips and skills for proficient skiing on snow, it’s a rather different experience when you reach the mountains.
Some people will find the real snow and mountains quite intimidating to start with, including the sheer size of skiing on open slopes, weather conditions, less predictable slopes of snow and sometimes ice, different uplift options, lift passes and the crowds.
Many new skiers and snowboarders find it a much easier progression to travel with a group of people they already know from a local club to a ski resort. Being part of a familiar crowd helps to relax newcomers and many clubs will offer group trips that also include an experienced member or instructor.
People learn the ropes of a ski resort much quicker when they are being shown around by those who are already familiar with the area and the process.
The next step could be a ski holiday abroad. The trip will be easier and far less daunting if skiers and snowboarders are already familiar with mountain skiing in Scotland.
Meet the Mat to Mountain skiers
A family of skiers
Gill Darbyshire and her family learned to ski at Newmilns Ski and Snowsport Complex in Ayrshire in preparation for a holiday.
It was at a get-together at Gill’s sister’s home in February 2018 that they began discussing her brother-in-law’s 50th birthday in March 2019. The plan was a skiing holiday, although Gill and her family could not ski.
Gill, of Symington, South Ayrshire, said: “After too many beers and wine it was agreed it would be a fantastic idea for us all – both families with four adults and four kids – to go.”
Gill, her husband Mike, and children, 13-year-old Callum and Eilidh, 10, immediately booked some lessons at their local artificial slope, Newmilns. She said: “I thought that with a year to go we could learn enough not to look like a total beginners on the slopes and get the most out of our holiday.
“We also thought it would be good to do something positive over the winter months when it is cold and dark and too easy just to sit inside.”
Newmilns Ski and Snowsport Complex is a 20-minute drive for the family. Gill said: “It’s our local ski slope and a not-for-profit organisation and, from our initial visit, it was welcoming, supportive and had a sense of fun and enjoyment. There is an obvious love of skiing and the sport from all staff, from instructors to office staff.
“Cost was a factor in learning on a dry slope. It was reasonably priced for the four of us to take a private lesson, which meant I only had to worry about making a fool of myself in front of Mike and the kids – and not strangers.
“I thought we would try one lesson to see how we got on. It was fantastic fun and provided a number of laughs and discussion around the dinner table for the next week until lesson two.”
More benefits of learning on an artificial slope
Gill liked the continuity of being able to attend regular lessons at a local slope and having the same instructor, who was able to tailor the lessons to their individual needs.
She also preferred the environment of a dry slope for learning. She said: “There is space to progress at my speed and in my time without worrying about better skiers ‘whizzing’ past me.
“Another benefit is that being outside, especially during the winter, is good for my mental and physical wellbeing and I felt the difference in both.
“Also, we did not need to spend money on specific ski clothing to start with. A simple pair of standard waterproof trousers and a jacket with appropriate layers, depending on the weather, was sufficient. I totally get the advantage of sallopettes in keeping snow out but on a dry slope we didn’t need them.”
The next step for the family was to try the “real snow” at SnowFactor Braehead Glasgow. Gill said: “The snow did feel different form the artificial slope but I think it was easier in some ways. We are now waiting enthusiastically for the real stuff this winter so we can head north – and then for March to go on our big group holiday abroad.”
From mat to the GB Snowboard team
Fin Bremner learned to ski at Aberdeen Snowsports Centre and is now on the GB Snowboard team and an instructor and coach at the centre.
Fin was nine when he first enjoyed the slope, with a tubing party for his birthday. Coincidentally, he was intrigued by a snowboarding lesson happening at the same time. He asked his parents if he could give it a try.
Fin said: “From my first lesson, I always liked the relaxed learning atmosphere and the no-pressure approach which is provided when learning to snowboard. I really enjoyed how you take things at your own pace, and progress when you feel comfortable. I’d say they’re some of the strongest reasons I still snowboard today.”
Fin had a couple of sessions on the artificial slope each week for around 18 months before his parents took him and his brother (who skied at the time) on a winter family holiday over Christmas.
That year was also the year that he was given his first season pass for the Scottish resorts. Fin spent almost every weekend of the season going to one of the Scottish resorts. His favourite is The Lecht.
He said: “The Lecht puts a lot of effort into the freestyle scene and always make a big effort to make things happen. I really appreciate that.”
Fin believes that learning on an artificial slope first was a great idea. He said: “It really helped that I learned on the dry slope. It teaches you really good basic technique so the transition to snow is a lot easier and seamless.”
It’s never to late to learn to ski
Anne Aitchison was 64 when she took up snowboarding. She had heard about a Ladies Ski morning at Aberdeen Snowsports and decided to give it a try.
Anne said: “Some three decades before I had done a six-week course with my children at Harrogate dry ski slope (no longer there) and I seemed to remember how to do the basics so I soon became part of a great group at Aberdeen.
“The centre at Aberdeen is excellent, too, with a range of different terrains to try and that means it is not boring.”
Last season, one of the group agreed to meet Anne at Glenshee Ski Centre to show her around the slopes.
Anne said: “It was a great introduction and after that I went a number of times on week days. I did try the Lecht but even though the cafe is better than Glenshee, it’s more difficult to get to for me when it’s snowing.
“I haven’t tried the slopes on the west coast as I would have to stay overnight but I may try this season.”
Anne has continued to snowboard once a week at the Aberdeen ski centre. She said: “I’d recommend skiing and snowboarding no matter what age you are. It’s an all-year-round hobby so you can improve your skills and when you do get to snow you can get back into your stride quickly.”
Clarkston snow bus to the slopes
Clarkston Snowsports Club encourage members and local people to get to Scotland’s ski resorts in the winter.
The club organises day trips to the “best on the day” resort, depending on the weather and snow conditions, including Glencoe, Glenshee, Nevis Range and Cairngorm.
The trips take place every fortnight from January to the end of the Scottish ski season. The bus – provided by Abbey Coaches – picks up at various points on Glasgow’s southside and city centre.
Club president Fergus Crawford said: “Taking the bus to the ski resorts makes a trip north affordable. It’s also a great way to meet new people and to enjoy skiing and snowboarding as part of a club.”
Being a member of Clarkston Snowsports Club also includes public liability insurance, provided through Snowsport Scotland, when skiing/boarding with the club.
Other benefits are discounted skiing sessions and lessons at SnowFactor Braehead Glasgow, Scotland’s indoor snow slope, and discounted lessons at Glasgow Ski & Snowboard Centre, Bellahouston Park.
Fergus said: “I learned on an artificial slope first and then headed to the Scottish ski resorts. This is the same for my children and also many members of our club.
“It’s a good way to learn and then to progress. Being part of a club or a larger group means that there are always other people who have more experience and can show you around a resorts.
“We are a friendly and sociable club and we welcome all standards of skiers and snowboarders.”
* See Ski Scotland for more information about artificial slopes and Scotland’s ski resorts.
- This blog post is published in association with Ski-Scotland.