Looking for the best Scotland ski resorts? Staycations saved our summer holidays this year and, with a skiing trip to the Alps or Rockies looking increasingly unlikely, the Scottish mountains are beckoning.
True, the snow in Scotland hasn’t always been as reliable as the Alps, but Scotland’s ski resorts have been ploughing money into state-of-the-art snow-making technology in recent years.
There are five main Scottish ski areas to choose from, two in the west (Glencoe and the Nevis Range) and three in the east in the Cairngorms National Park (Cairngorm Mountain, Glenshee and The Lecht). All now have strict Covid guidelines in place for added safety – think social distancing in lift queues, hand sanitiser stations and masks or buffs the rule in cafés.
There are a few advantages to strapping on your skis in Scotland. Flexibility is one. If weather reports forecast a big dump of snow, you can hop on the sleeper and arrive at the slopes the next morning or pile into the car with your gear and drive north. Another is the range of outdoor activities on offer from winter (wonderland) walking to ice-climbing and sledging.
And in terms of après-ski, fondue and tartiflette might not be on the menu but there are plenty of foodie highlights around: from cosy cafés dishing up bowls of steaming cullen skink to gastropubs serving hearty venison stews in front of an open fire and holiday cottages offering hampers stocked with local smoked salmon, homemade oatcakes and shortbread. This year might well be the time to swap the glühwein for a warming dram…
The Scottish ski season, snow conditions allowing, stretches from December through to Easter (some ski areas open officially 19 December). Visitors to Scotland should consult the Scottish Government and VisitScotland websites for up-to-date advice on Covid restrictions.
Best of Scotland’s ski resorts
Glenshee Ski Centre – Scotland’s largest ski resort
Glenshee is the largest ski area in Scotland with 40km of pisted runs (a good mix of green, blue, red and black) spread over 2,000 acres, the most comprehensive network of lifts in the country (22 including three chairlifts), a ski and board school, and three cafés. The season kicks off on 19 December – guaranteed thanks to Snow Factory snowmaking machines.
You can even stay in a chocolate box chalet nearby. Glenbeag Chalets is a cluster of five traditional log cabins straight out of a skiing brochure. At an altitude of 1,100ft above sea level and surrounded by spectacular scenery, each has a natural turf roof, interiors of exposed wood, a traditional sauna and hot tub for a long steamy soak to ease aching muscles after a day on the slopes. The chalets are just six miles from Glenshee ski centre and a 20-minute drive from Braemar, where you’ll find one of the most luxurious gourmet hotels in the Highlands, The Fife Arms.
In the hotel’s Flying Stag bar tuck into a Highland beef and bone marrow burger, with Tain Fat Cow cheese and hand cut chips, Scottish fish and chips, or haggis, neeps and tatties with Royal Lochnagar whisky sauce and skirlie.
The Lecht – family skiing in Scotland
The Lecht is the smallest of Scotland’s ski centres, on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park, and it’s one of the best for beginners (Magic carpet moving walkways rather than lifts for the nursery slopes) and a good family-friendly option. It has 20km of pistes, a day lodge and café for a warming hot chocolate and an on-site snowsports school.
A good base for your stay is the Dell of Abernethy (BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch set up camp here for three seasons), just a half-hour drive away. This lodge and cluster of cottages is family-friendly and food-focussed. You can book a range of ‘Grocer’ options from a welcome hamper stocked with hand-picked local produce to oven-ready dishes (think homemade venison, juniper and gremolata pie followed by homey blackcurrant and apple crumble) and DIY meal kits with fool-proof instructions. Try the hot smoked salmon and leek risotto or shakshouka. They also have a carefully curated cellar list showcasing local Inshriach gin alongside the wines and organic beers from the Highlands’ Black Isle Brewery.
Nevis Range Mountain Experience – off-piste Scottish skiing
The new kid on the block (it opened in 1989), Nevis Range is seven miles from Fort William on the west coast – and on the bucket list of many off-piste and back-country skiers. It’s also home to the UK’s only gondola, which swings up the north face of Aonach Mor with breathtaking views over the Great Glen’s snow-capped peaks and Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain.
Just a few minutes’ drive from the slopes, the Inverlochy Castle Hotel is a grand baronial pad with an Albert and Michel Roux Jr restaurant. Rooms might blow the budget, but look out for special offers (such as a winter two nights for the price of one: £375 for two nights b&b) or swing by for dinner. Think wild Scottish rabbit cannelloni, cured loin, girolles and lardo or west coast langoustine with pickled mussels, sea herbs, verjus pearls and seaweed dashi.
Another good place to stay is the Lime Tree on the waterfront in Fort William (art gallery, boutique hotel and restaurant in one) which dishes up gin-cured smoked salmon with cheese and chive mousse, beetroot ketchup and pickled vegetables alongside vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties.
Please note that Nevis Range is closed until they have sufficient snowfall to open for snow sports.
Aviemore – Alpine skiing vibes in the Scottish mountains
Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park is as close as Scotland gets to an Alpine ski resort with its smattering of outdoors shops, cosy cafés and hotel resorts. It also has a bus to the slopes. You can’t ski from your door, but Cairngorm Mountain is just 20 minutes’ drive away through fairy tale forests of towering pines.
The ski area has 30km of slopes and the UK’s highest funicular up to a panoramic restaurant and ski station. Unfortunately, it’s out of action this season, but there are 11 lifts and tows to take skiers to the slopes, mountain cafés, back country touring and ski and snowboard lessons on site.
After a day on the slopes, bed down in the latest addition to Hidden Highland Retreats’ portfolio of chic cottages, The Garden Flat in 18th-century Inverdruie House. It’s a 10-minute walk from Aviemore, (the Caledonian Sleeper pulls into the train station at 7.30am) and the Old Bridge Inn for gastropub fare and a roaring fire. This cute botanical-themed bolthole comes with a gourmet welcome hamper stocked with produce from the Rothiemurchus estate farm shop nearby and secure storage for your skis.
Cottages sleep four from £750 per week, £500 for a three-night short break, check availability at hiddenhighlandretreats.com.
Glencoe Mountain Resort – Scottish skiing with on-site pods
Scotland’s first ski area, Glencoe, opened in 1956 and is the only one with accommodation on site (a handful of cosy wooden pods), so you can ski straight from your door. Hunkered into the wild, windswept grandeur of Rannoch Moor, the mountain resort dishes up dramatic Highland scenery at every turn. It brags the longest and steepest ski run in Scotland and as well as skiing and snowboarding, offers avalanche training and (free) sledging.
If you’re not bunking down in a pod, nip over the road to the recently revamped Kingshouse Hotel. A pitstop for weary travellers since the 1750s, the historic hotel relaunched with a striking wood and stone extension in 2019. There’s a restaurant with panoramic views, the menu featuring light bites such as local Loch Leven oysters with shallot vinegar and smoked haddock rarebit with toasted sourdough and rocket salad, or belt-busting mains such as the Scottie Dog haggis hot dog with Isle of Mull cheddar sauce, Arran mustard and crisp onions in a brioche bun. Then sit back and relax in front of a roaring fire in the bar with a local malt whisky.
Doubles from £120 b&b, check availability at kingshousehotel.co.uk.
Photograph credits VisitScotland,