Where to ski the steeps in Scotland
If you enjoy the challenge of skiing a steep run, Scotland will impress with plenty to choose from. Each of the five Scottish ski resorts offers at least one black-graded piste – and several resorts boast more than a few.
Black is the steepest grade of slope in Scotland and Europe. Indeed, Scotland is considered to have some of the toughest blacks in Europe.
Maybe you would like to know which is the steepest ski run in Scotland? The debate rages on between the Tiger at Glenshee Ski Centre and the Flypaper at Glencoe. According to measurements, The Flypaper is 10 degrees steeper than the Tiger. But the snow conditions will often dictate which is the steepest on any given day.
In addition, it’s worth noting that the West Wall at Cairngorm Mountain and the black run off Glas Maol in Glenshee can be as steep as The Flypaper when the snow builds up from the east.
The best steep ski runs in Scotland
I have chosen black runs that are served by chairlifts and tows, so they are mainly in-resort and part of the wider patrolled ski areas.
I have also listed some that are just outside the patrolled areas – and that is because they are too good not to mention. However, skiers and snowboarders would be wise, in terms of safety, to attend back country workshops and use the transceiver parks for practising off piste skills.
I have had some help from keen skiers in choosing the best of the steeps at the five Scottish ski resorts.
Glenshee Snowsports Centre
Glenshee has its own wee “battle for the steepest” going on. The Tiger run with its bumps offers fantastic mogul skiing in the right conditions. It has been variously described as “formidable”, “scarily steep”, “amazing fun for the skilled” and “perfect in deep powder” by my skiing friends.
Yet, there is also the west wall on the side of Glas Moal to check out. The black run off Glas Maol can be as steep as the Tiger and Flypaper when the snow builds up from the east.
Either way, if you head to Glenshee, Scotland’s largest ski area, you will be able to enjoy a couple of exciting steeps set amid a stunning mountain range.
Neal Padmanabhan, who skis at Glenshee with his four children whenever he can, says: “The Tiger last half term was epic. We were staying just 15 minutes away and we enjoyed the most amazing powder before other people arrived. We must have skied it at least a dozen times in knee-deep powder under blue skies.”
Glencoe is renowned for both jaw-dropping steeps and views. Heading off from the top of Glencoe Mountain are two of the most talked-about runs in Scotland.
The first is the Flypaper, which is considered to be one of the steepest in-bounds in Europe and (arguably) the steepest run in Scotland.
It has a true mountain feel to it and a heart-in-the-mouth gradient that is at least 40 degrees or possibly even 45 degrees. As you peer over the top, you can’t be sure just how steep the Flypaper will be – but the second you edge past the roll-over, it is suddenly very apparent that the run will be a big challenge for experienced skiers and snowboarders.
Read about what it’s like to ski the Flypaper in Glencoe.
Next to the Flypaper is the Spring Run. It might be graded as a red run, but it’s still a challenging piste. Many will tell you it’s the toughest red slope in Scotland. As the name suggests, you are recommended to ski it in springtime for the best snow conditions.
Keen skier Alan Anderson said: “Springy is the best. I love the way it steepens and falls away.”
Another much enjoyed steep run – if you’re an expert – is Balleys Gully at Glencoe Mountain Resort.
Advanced skiers and snowboarders rave about Nevis Range. Warm up on a few black runs on the front side of the mountain, such as Warrens, Flight and Nid Wall, and then head to the famous back Corries. (You should be aware that many of the back country runs are outwith the patrolled areas so you need to have a good working knowledge of off-piste skills and know how to act in an emergency.)
From the top of the Summit Button, a short walk takes you to the top of the steep sides of Coire Dubh, with ski runs into an area of the mountain called the Back Corries.
The off-piste itineraires drop off the perfectly named Lemming Ridge and pose a serious challenge. Names like Chancer, Back Track, Easy Gully and Winger Wall spill out of the mouths of excited back country skiers and boarders. Many will vouch it’s the best powder skiing in Scotland.
However, it is important that you pay heed to the snow conditions before skiing off Lemmings. The ski patrol hut at the top of the Summit Button tow will give you some vital info.
There is limited uplift in this area – the Braveheart Chair – and typically skiers will need to hike back up the slopes, or where possible, use ski touring kit to ski back uphill.
Nevis Range also runs Back Corries workshops throughout the winter and there are two transceiver parks in Zone B where you can practise your mountain search and rescue skills.
Cairngorm Mountain occupies two corries on the north face of the Cairngorm Plateau, Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste. It’s a popular destination for advanced skiers, especially those that are keen to explore the steeps just outside the resort boundaries.
It’s important to note, again, that many of the back country runs are outwith the patrolled areas so you need to have a good working knowledge of off-piste skills and know how to act in an emergency.
In-bounds, the only marked black runs are the West Wall of Coire na Ciste and No 2 Gully on the East Wall of the Ciste.
For snowboarder Lesley McKenna, Scotland’s three-times Olympics’ competitor, it is Cairngorm that offers the most challenging thrills.
“East Wall Gullies 1 and 2 are brilliant,” she says “the gradient edges over 40 degrees and it offers great skiing because the slopes usually hold the snow so well.”
The West Wall gets another vote from Lesley. She says: “There is a rollover and then the slope gets seriously steep, then there is a technical section and more steep skiing again. It’s challenging but so great.”
Like many experienced skiers and snowboarders, Lesley enjoys the steeps that are well known yet not marked.
She says: “There are lots of excellent and steep runs that are located close to the resort but you do need to know what you are doing in snowy terrain, especially in terms of the potential for avalanches.”
Coronation Wall is a favourite. She says: “Coronation Wall is a brilliant steep face accessed via the Ptarmigan t-bar and then a traverse walk. It’s well worth the effort if you like the steeps.
“There is also Head Wall. It’s a great steep run if it’s in condition. It must be up to 45 degrees in places and there are some fun features. I can remember skiing it in deep powder in May 2010. It was epic.”
For Lesley, it’s Aladdin’s Couloir in the gullies of Coire an t-Sneachda that she raves the most about, although we did have a chat about whether this could be listed in an in-bounds round-up of black runs…We agreed it can’t be but I thought it should get a mention!
The Lecht’s short but steep Harrier is a great run for expert skiers. Lesley reckons the Harrier is the best in-bounds steep in Scotland. She says: “It has a really lovely pitch; pretty much an even pitch for the length of the slope.
“Plus it has a direct fall line so this makes it much more accessible to keen skiers, although you do still need to be comfortable and capable with steep gradients.
“Another good thing about the Harrier is you can see all the way down the slope so you can see what is coming next. Unlike slopes like the Flypaper, which starts with a daunting rollover.”
To find out more about all of the Scottish ski resorts see Ski Scotland.
- This blog post is published in association with Ski-Scotland.