A Scottish blizzard? Now that's what I like

On 27 December last year, while most people were curled up in their living rooms eating their way through mountains of cold turkey sandwiches and watching festive reruns on the TV, I was riding an ancient T-bar up the side of a somewhat less welcoming mountain.

On 27 December last year, while most people were curled up in their living rooms eating their way through mountains of cold turkey sandwiches and watching festive reruns on the TV, I was riding an ancient T-bar up the side of a somewhat less welcoming mountain.

In blizzard conditions, the 3,003ft Carn Aosda in the Scottish ski resort of Glenshee was to be my last run of the day. Halfway up the very steep incline, a young Glaswegian man on the other side of the mobile anchor suddenly leaned into the biting wind and asked me where I was from. When I told him I was up for a weekend's skiing on my own from London, he nearly fell off the lift in shock. Fortunately, he managed to cling on, and for the rest of the ride we sat shivering, trying to work out exactly what would possess anyone to travel so many miles north to ski in a blizzard two days after Christmas.

We came over the top of the ridge into a wind that was no longer biting but was now positively gnawing its way through my ski suit. As I released the T-bar and it sprung back into its socket, all thoughts of "Why am I here?" were swiftly replaced by thoughts of "How do I get down there?". Feeling very exposed, I looked around for the young Glaswegian, but he had already disappeared into the snowy oblivion. The lift had also now come to a halt, frozen into inaction by the elements. For a moment, I too stood frozen to the spot by the driving snow and bitter cold. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder – it was my friend from the T-bar. Together, we edged our way blindly off the steep ridge until we came to a snow fence – and safety.

During that descent, thoughts of "Why am I here?" once again drifted through my mind and it wasn't until that evening, when I was cradling a whisky by an open log fire in the bar of the Fife Arms, a classic Highland hotel a few miles down the road from Glenshee, that I realised just what a rewarding day I'd had.

The reason, of course, is simple – everyone loves a challenge. Skiing was never meant to be as easy as it has become today and, in a world of state-of-the-art telecabines, centrally heated boots and perfectly groomed pistes, skiing in Scotland still feels like a battle against the elements.

When I joined the beginners' class in Glenshee at the bottom of the optimistically named Sunnyside chairlift at the age of six, the first thing the instructor said to the assembled group of icy faces was: "If you can ski in Scotland, you can ski anywhere." Since then, I have skied on heather, been blown uphill by the wind, seen my brother disappear through the ice (and fortunately resurface a few moments later), queued for a lift for half an hour only to be back at the bottom 30 seconds later, and had my car windscreen smashed by stones picked up by the wind. But that instructor's mantra has kept bringing me back – coupled with the fact that I've also skied in knee-deep powder at Glencoe, stood on top of the world on a crystal-clear day at Aviemore with the Cairngorms stretched out before me, and enjoyed the sort of warmth and hospitality which is often sadly lacking in the giant Alpine resorts.

Skiing in Scotland has never had a particularly good press. In fact, south of the border, it has hardly had any press at all, and English skiers are more likely to have heard of Méribel or Val d'Isère than Glenshee. But while it's true that a week in any one of the Scottish resorts would be overkill for all but the most elementary skier, Glenshee now boasts 26 lifts and 25 miles of piste, while Cairngorm (17 lifts) has just installed a £15m underground funicular to whisk people to the top of the mountain, blizzard or no blizzard. In addition, Nevis Range (12 lifts) offers the chance to ski on the flanks of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, and, when the snow is right, Glencoe (seven lifts) can offer a vertical descent of 2,600ft in some of the most majestic surroundings in the world.

But when exactly is the snow right, I hear you ask. The question of the white stuff, or lack of it, is another stumbling block when it comes to convincing anyone else to make the long journey north with me instead of going in the direction of Switzerland or Utah. I can only tell the truth: that I have been skiing in Scotland for 25 years now and, while the powder is often more akin to porridge than it is to champagne, the Scots have perfected the art of making a little go a long way and I have never failed to find a patch of snow long enough and wide enough to keep me entertained. And last year, of course, the snowfall north of the border was so heavy that Scotland was briefly cut off from its southern neighbour, providing the perfect antidote to a series of ever-decreasing patches in recent seasons.

A few days is the ideal length of time for a Scottish ski trip and, while weekend breaks to the Alps are strictly the reserve of people with too much money and too little time, a short break in the Highlands is entirely feasible for people with too little time and too little money. If, like me, you travel from London, you can catch the sleeper from London's Euston station and, after a nightcap in the bar, fall asleep dreaming of parallel turns or 360s as the train makes its way northwards.

Next morning, you step off the train at Aviemore or Fort William, the resort towns for Cairngorm and Nevis Range, and can be on the slopes within the hour. Slightly more civilised than booking months in advance, catching a 6am charter flight and enduring a five-hour coach transfer at the other end. Then, after three or four days' skiing, you simply rejoin the train and wake up back in London the next morning in time for work. Whatever the conditions when you get there, it's got to be better than cold turkey sandwiches and Noel's House Party.

Getting there

The nearest railway stations are at Aviemore and Fort William. An Apex sleeper return from London (which calls at Crewe and Preston en route) costs £99 if you book seven days in advance through Scotrail (08457 550033; www.scotrail.co.uk).

Being there

The Fife Arms (013397 41644) charges £19.50 per person per night. A one-day lift pass costs £15-£20.

Further information

For details about all Scottish ski resorts, including snow reports, visit www.skiscotland.net or contact the Scottish Tourist Board (0131 332 2433; www.visitscotland.com/ski/ index.html).

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