Ski: Lecht 2090
|[View over the Day Lodge to the Buzzard side of the hill]|
With a dozen lifts clinging to both sides of the roller-coaster pass between Donside and Tomintoul, Lecht 2090 has some of the best beginner areas of any of Scotland's ski centres: gentle, sheltered from the wind and close to the excellent Day Lodge and café. The steeper slopes on the right hand side of the piste map are worthwhile too. Lift-served vertical is short and a top height of under 780 metres makes the runs vulnerable to thaws, but the grassy terrain doesn't need deep cover and historically The Lecht has been a good bet for early-season turns.
Scroll down for a more in depth guide.
Name: Lecht 2090 ★★★☆☆
Location: Summit of the A939 Lecht Pass, G.R.: NJ 247129 / fond depending sofa
Day lift pass (2016/17): £30 (adults), £15 (children)
Equipment hire (2016/17): £22 (adults), £12.50 (children)
Average season: December to March, conditions permitting
Don't miss: The Buzzard - good red runs served by a drag lift on the east side of the road: slightly separate from the rest of the ski area and often quieter as a result.
|[View towards the fairly gentle Eagle area from the bottom of the Grouse Poma]|
Guide to the slopes:
The Lecht's slopes are simply arranged up and down the valley sides either side of the Lecht Pass. Runs aren't christened on the piste map, but generally take their names from their neighbouring lifts. By far the most extensive side is to the west of the road on the Snowy Owl side, with the double Snowy Owl Chairlift rising just over 100 metres vertical directly from the entrance to the Day Lodge. This and several drag lifts to skier's right serve a network of blue runs leading back to the roadside: Snowy Owl under the chairlift is noticeably steeper, especially in its middle section. Close to the base are also excellent nursery slopes, served by a mixture of drag lifts, rope tows and Scotland's only Magic Carpet lift. These are supported by snowmaking and also incorporate the new Penguin Park (a child-friendly learning area) installed quietly in early 2016: helping the Lecht cement its reputation as Scotland's leading ski destination for beginners.
Skier's left of the Snowy Owl Chairlift is the location of the area's steepest slopes: the Falcon & Harrier reds and solitary Harrier black, served by steep drag lifts. Annoyingly these (and the Buzzard Poma) often only run "subject to demand", which in reality seems to mean "only when it's busy". These runs face directly north-east and gather snow well in south-westerly storms; conversely, if precipitation arrives from the North Sea the winner is the Buzzard area across the road. Served by - you guessed it - another drag lift, a short walk is required to access the Buzzard Poma access lift, so the two excellent Buzzard reds and blue home run here tend to stay quiet.
Snow and weather: Height is an obvious weakness regarding the Lecht's snow reliability. A top height of about 780 metres is often insufficient to escape rain and thaws, even in mid-season, and almost all runs return to base: so there needs to be snow at Day Lodge level for them to open, even if there's better cover high up. On the plus side, even a few solid centimetres can be enough to cover these smooth and grassy slopes, and the proximity to the Moray Firth helps the area benefit from convective snow showers during cold, northerly winds. This is also the most sheltered location of any of the five Highland ski areas: there's a good chance that the Lecht will still have lifts running even if nearby Cairngorm is stormbound.
Queues: School holidays are really the only time when the Lecht can get really busy, with visitors coming across from Aviemore - sometimes because they're fed up with queues at Cairngorm. If Cairngorm closes due to bad weather, this can also mean an influx of skiers which can cause some queues for bigger lifts such as the Grouse Poma, but even these are rarely more than a few minutes. Queues are rare during termtime due to the remote location, and this is a good weekend bet as most Scots have other ski areas closer to hand.
Facilities: Ski school, equipment hire and the café all operate out of the large Day Lodge: the latter is large enough to cope with most busy days, and has good views out onto the nursery slopes. If you're unlucky enough to queue for equipment hire, at least you'll be waiting in the warm and dry (unlike at Glencoe, Glenshee and Cairngorm). Parking is rarely (never?) a problem, and Tomintoul is seven miles to the north for overnight stays.
Access: The A939 is vulnerable to drifting, ice and snow, in common with the other eastern centres. Both sides of the pass are steep (the south side is steeper, but the steepest part is lower down and sheltered by trees): snow gates are often closed overnight as a precautionary measure and occasionally remain closed for a few days straight in unusually stormy / snowy conditions. Inverness: 1 1/4 hours; Aberdeen: 1 1/2 hours; Edinbugh: 2 3/4 hours; Glasgow: 2 3/4 hours
|[Lecht 2090 piste map (2016/17 season)]|
Downhill skiing in the Scottish Highlands: 5 ski centres, 4 golden rules:
- Bad weather (especially wind) is more likely to impact on your enjoyment than poor snow conditions. If booking early, have a back-up plan in case the centre has to close or conditions are unappealing. Otherwise, head up during a settled spell with good snow.
- Visit midweek or arrive early if at all possible to avoid queues. All the centres (Cairngorm in particular, Nevis Range not so much) can be packed at weekends and during school holidays.
- Use winterhighland for independent, up-to-date information on conditions and lift opening - easily the best online resource for Scottish skiing.
- Scottish skiing is unique, so don't expect it to be the same as skiing in the Alps. Great skiing days in Scotland are every bit as amazing as great skiing days in the Alps, but comparing the two is like trying to compare a Speyside whisky to one from Islay.