Juliet Clough explores the wide range of winter resorts in the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands, where ease of access is matched by value for money, and there are a few seriously challenging runs for experienced skiers

SCOTTISH SKI resorts have had a rather thin time during the balmy winters of the past few years. Last season was one of the worst in memory. Bylate October, snow in The Cairngorms was already lying as far down as 2,500ft. In a good year, skiing continues until the third week in April.

SCOTTISH SKI resorts have had a rather thin time during the balmy winters of the past few years. Last season was one of the worst in memory. Bylate October, snow in The Cairngorms was already lying as far down as 2,500ft. In a good year, skiing continues until the third week in April.

Skiing in Scotland is cheap and easily accessible. It is also a bit of a toss-up: glum days of blizzard and zero visibility balanced against days of blueskies and knee-deep powder, intervals when those who persevere are rewarded with conditions as good as any.

Snowboarding and off-piste possibilities mushroom, resorts remain small and unpretentious, a description whose subtext ski snobs may read as"crowded and uninspiring". But for the dedicated, Scottish skiing offers serious challenges. The scheduling in Scotland of international events such aslast year's melted-off Europa Cup Finals, are evidence that skiing here has finally come of age.

And there are cost reductions for juniors and senior citizens on most of the prices quoted.

CAIRNGORM

Tucked into two central Highland valleys, this is the most popular resort, with 17 lifts (some decidedly antiquated), a snowboard fun-park and goodcross-country and off-piste options. An all-round centre with almost 30 runs divided equally among beginners, intermediates and experts, plus onedifficult black run. A hoped-for expansion into the surrounding wilderness is proving controversial due to environmental concerns. Uplift capacity is12,043 per hour, but Cairngorm can get crowded at weekends. Best for shops and nightlife.

How to get there

A9 trunk road to Aviemore (10 miles west). Overnight sleeper train from London to Aviemore, or day train with GNER, links with five daily busservices to slopes. Regular flights to Inverness, 40 minutes' drive from the resort, with EasyJet, Air UK, BA.

Cost

Day ticket, £20; beginner, £10; five-day £80. Instruction: half-day from £15; two days £24. Ski hire from £13per day; snowboards from £16; clothing hire from £12 per day. Lift-pass, tuition and equipment hire package: two days, £65 adult,then £25 per additional day, from Cairngorm Snowsports School (tel: 01479 861261).

Where to stay

Wide range of hotels, guest-houses, b&b, hostels and self-catering accommodation in Aviemore and surrounding villages. Two-night weekend breakprices from around £35. Stakis Hotels in Aviemore and Coylumbridge from £35 to £65 per person per night, b&b (tel: 01479811811). Aviemore TIC (tel: 01479 810363).

Information

Cairngorm Ski Area, Aviemore Inverness-shire PH22 1RB (tel: 01479 861261; e-mail: http://www.aviemore.co.uk.). Ski Hotline (tel: 0891 654655 -calls at 50p per minute).

GLENSHEE

Scotland's "Trois Vallees" - the largest of the resorts. A spectacular location between Blairgowrie and Braemar takes in four Munros, giving access to40km of marked pistes and off-piste skiing but gets crowded at weekends. Excellent for intermediate and advanced skiers - its formidable Tiger run isthe steepest in Europe. a creche, snowboard fun-park and first-aid centre. Snow Fun Week: 1-5 March.

How to get there

A93, about 90 minutes from Edinburgh by road; train to Perth or Dundee; frequent flights to Aberdeen (69 miles), Edinburgh (84 miles) and Glasgow(101 miles).

Cost

Day lift-pass £18; five-day lift-pass £72; five-day package (pass, tuition and hire) £95. Alpine-ski hire £13 per day, pounds50 per week; snowboard, £17 per day, £84 per week. Combined Glenshee/Glencoe Ski season ticket gives unlimited access, price pounds250.

Where to stay

Wide choice of small, friendly places in Braemar (nine miles) and Blairgowrie (25 miles). B&b from £16 per person per night. Nearest hotel:The Spittal of Glenshee (six miles); weekend package: £68 per person (tel: 01250 885215). Braemar TIC (tel: 01339 741600).

Information

Glenshee Ski Centre, Cairnwell, by Braemar, Aberdeenshire AB35 5XU (tel: 013397 41320). Ski Hotline (tel: 0891 654656).

NEVIS RANGE

The newest and, at 4,000ft, the highest skiing in Scotland took off in 1989 on the slopes of Aonach Mor, near Fort William. Other resorts are startingto take their cue from Nevis Range's user-friendly approach. A gondola carries visitors to the nursery area; views of Ben Nevis take the breath away.The "Braveheart" chairlift, new in the 1996/97 season, has almost doubled the available area, providing exhilarating wilderness skiing. Nevis Rangeplays host to several top events including, in April, the Federation Internationale de Ski Scottish Championships. The area has a good record forlate-season skiing, into May.

How to get there

Aonach Mor is seven miles north of Fort William, which is 76 miles south- west of Inverness. ScotRail serves Fort William from Glasgow, a distanceof 10 miles). Nearest airports: Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh (138 miles). Bus service from Fort William.

Cost

Day lift-pass costs £18.50; five-day pass £75. Ski schools charge £16 per day; clothing hire is £10 per day, and equipmentcosts £13 per day. Two-day package (lift-pass, hire and four hours of skiing instruction): beginners £62, advanced £80; five-daypackage: beginners £136, advanced £150.

Where to stay

There is plenty of tourist accommodation in in and around Fort William. Basic b&b from £14, weekend breaks from £26.50. AlexandraHotel and Milton Hotel and Leisure Club: b&b from £32.50 (tel: 01397 701177). Fort William TIC (tel: 01397 703781).

Information

Nevis Range, Torlundy, Fort William, Inverness-shire PH33 6SW (tel: 01397 705825). Ski Hotline (tel: 0891 654660).

GLENCOE

The site of the first permanent ski tow in Scotland, erected in 1956, Glencoe remains the toughest proposition of them all, a real skiers' resort, the onewith fewest frills and most hairs on its chest. But, out of the five resorts, Glencoe has the plateau area best suited to beginners and the fierce Fly Paperrun is arguably Scotland's most challenging run, comparable to a good European black; Etive Glades is of championship standard. Recentrefurbishments include a beginners' lift. Improvements to the Plateau Cafe are eagerly awaited.

How to get there

Glencoe lies 70 miles north of Glasgow and 26 miles south of Fort William, on the main A82. The nearest railway stations are Bridge of Orchy (12miles) or Fort William. Flights to Glasgow or Inverness (108 miles). There is a bus service to Glencoe from Glasgow.

Cost

Day lift-pass £17; five-day £68; four hours ski school £18; five-day packages including passes, hire and instruction, from pounds80; ski hire £13; five-day boarding package £155. A combined Glencoe and Nevis Range midweek ticket is £68.

Where to stay

Accommodation in Glencoe (five miles), Ballachulish (seven miles) or Onich (19 miles) from £15 for b&b. Kingshouse Hotel, Glencoe from£26 b&b (tel: 01855 851259). The Isles of Glencoe Hotel and Leisure Centre or the Ballachulish Hotel, both in Ballachulish, from £33for two nights b&b accommodation (tel: 01855 821582). Fort William TIC (tel: 01397 703781).

Information

Glencoe Ski Centre, Kingshouse, Glencoe, Argyll PA39 4HZ (tel: 01855 851226). Ski Hotline (tel: 0891 654658).

THE LECHT

Pocket-sized, roadside resort on the notorious Cockbridge to Tomintoul road, the one that is always the first to get snow-blocked. As it is basically onebig, sheltered nursery slope, The Lecht is especially suitable for beginners; you can watch the kids without having to stir from the cafe or the car park.Good piste grooming and a snowboard fun-park make this a pleasantly undemanding centre for family days out.

How to get there

Fifty-seven miles west of Aberdeen and 50 miles east of Inverness, on the A939. There are frequent flights and trains to both cities.

Cost

Day lift-pass £12; five-day pass £44.50. Private instruction £18 per hour; class lesson £15 for two hours; Alpine-ski hire£11 per day. Weekender two-day package (lift-pass, two-hour tuition each day and equipment hire) £60; five-day Super Pack pounds100.

Where to stay

B&bs in the area start at around £16. Nearest hotels: Allargue Arms, Corgarff, Gordon Hotel and Glen Avon, both in Tomintoul; details fromTomintoul TIC (tel: 01807 580285). Braemar TIC (tel: 013397 41600).

Information

Lecht Ski Company Ltd, Corgarff, Strathdon, Grampian AB36 8YP (tel: 01975 651440). Ski Hotline (tel: 09001 654657 - calls cost 50p per minute).

FACT FILE

on the slopes in scotland

Getting there

By rail: GNER runs a frequent daily service to Edinburgh and Glasgow, eg: a return from London starts at £19; and London to Aberdeen, Perth,Aviemore, Dundee and Inverness costs from £23 return (tel: 0345 225225).

ScotRail do an overnight service, London to Inverness and Aberdeen, from £62 return, plus £29 each way for sleeping berth. Glasgow toFort William, £30.60 return (tel: 0345 550033).

Virgin Cross Country Apex fares: London to Glasgow from £30; Plymouth to Aberdeen from £89 return; Birmingham to Edinburghfrom £25, Bournemouth to Glasgow, from £43 (tel: 0345 222333).

All rail enquiries: tel: 0345 484950. Be sure to check on company policy on carrying skis; a charge may be applicable for use of guard's van.

By air: All fares plus £10 tax and subject to availability. Ski equipment travels as part of standard luggage allowance but check on booking thatthe plane is of a size to carry it.

EasyJet: Luton to Edinburgh from £15 (Nov/Dec), Edinburgh and Glasgow from £19 (to end March); Aberdeen and Inverness from£29: all fares single (tel: 01582 445566).

Ryanair: Stansted to Prestwick from £58 return plus one-third off ongoing rail tickets to anywhere in Scotland (tel: 0541 569569).

British Airways: Gatwick to Inverness from £79 return; Heathrow and Gatwick to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow from £59 return(tel: 0345 222111).

KLM UK: London City to Edinburgh and Glasgow; Stansted to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, from £59 (tel: 0990 074074).

British Midland: Heathrow to Edinburgh and Glasgow from £59 return; East Midlands to Glasgow and Edinburgh from £109 and toAberdeen from £111 return (tel: 0345 554554).

By coach: Express coach services travel from most English cities to Scotland. Prices from £27 London-Glasgow: Scottish Citylink (tel: 0990505050); National Express (tel: 0990 808080).

Package holidays

Several companies offer coach travel plus cut-rate packages for all resorts, eg: from £115.50 for five days self-catering chalet. Try Scottish SkiHolidays (tel: 01250 874574) and Scottish Ski Tours (tel: 01479 821333).

Further information

Full run-down on all resorts, including accommodation, from Scottish Snowsports and Winter Activities brochure, by post from the Scottish TouristBoard, Freepost, Dunoon, Argyll PA23 7UZ; or tel: 08705 511511.

Comments