Ski: Glenshee Ski Centre

[Sunnyside has good blue and green runs finishing right at the main car park]

Glenshee boasts the largest ski area and biggest lift system in the UK, at the head of the Cairnwell Pass linking Blairgowrie to Braemar in the southern Cairngorms. Two new chairlifts in recent years have transformed The Cairnwell side of the mountain to the west of the A93; eyes now turn to the terrain further east where further upgrades are planned. With a top height below 1000 metres runs are generally short and the season can be too, but in good snow conditions this is a brilliant destination for all levels of skier and snowboarder.

Scroll down for a more in depth guide.

[Home Run to the Tom Dearg Poma is a superb long run, along the Meall Odhar ridge away from all the lifts]

Name: Glenshee Ski Centre ★★★
Location: Summit of the A93 Cairnwell Pass, G.R.: NO 139781 / smuggled downhill wiggling
Day lift pass (2016/17): £30 (adults), £20 (children)
Equipment hire (2016/17): £22 (adults), £11 (children)
Average season: Mid-December to March, conditions permitting

Don't miss: Glas Maol - the snowsure coire in the far-flung third valley, with some of the ski area's longest runs and stunning views into the Cairngorms from the top.

[Moguls forming on Carn Aosda on a beautiful bluebird afternoon (January 2011)]

Guide to the slopes:

Glenshee's topography results in it often being referred to as the "Scottish 3 Valleys", after the more famous ski area in the French Alps. However the area is more easily described in four sections, separated from each other by each of the three valleys. Runs are not named on the piste map, but are occasionally signposted on the mountain.

To the east of the A93, the triple Cairnwell Chairlift rises steeply to The Cairnwell's high point on the Munro of the same name. This lift opened in 2016 replacing an ancient single seater, and accesses the start of the often mogulled Tiger black; a ridge towards the Thunderbowl is the only alternative. But the main hub on this side of the road is reached by the newish two-seater Baddoch Chairlift, which rises a short distance to the hub of The Cairnwell area at a hexagonal café, with a choice of steepish greens back to base. The easiest nursery slopes (with a dedicated drag lift and rope tow) are below this point but the access run alongside the Plastic Slope Poma is a bit steep: it may be better to walk from the base station. Above the café, the Claybokie Poma serves good, green progression runs, while the Cairnwell T-bar reaches the top of the ridge for the Thunderbowl, the often immaculately-groomed Race Track runs, and the longer Bunny Run. Further over, the Carn Aosda T-bar and Butcharts Access Poma both serve a decent area of rolling, intermediate runs, with the easiest slopes to skier's right. A fun park is sometimes built next to the higher Butcharts T-bar.

Across the road, the double Sunnyside Chairlift and twin drags rise to the top of the low Sunnyside / Cluny ridge between the first and second valleys. Fairly gentle runs return to the car park with few surprises, with even easier ones served by the two Cluny PomasTom Dearg Poma and short Beag Poma on the far side of the ridge. The latter lift also takes you to Meall Odhar Café where the Caenlochan Poma departs for the higher Meall Odhar ridge. In good snow, its western flank is a wonderful intermediate playground with interesting natural terrain features, its lower portion also accessed by the Meall Odhar Poma. Don't miss the long Home Run, gradually steepening as it winds along the ridge with great views north over the Cairngorms and no lifts in sight. On the other side of the ridge, unfenced blues and a direct red descend into Coire Fionn, with two more drags taking you back.

Coire Fionn is also the stepping stone to reach many people's favourite part of the area at Glas Maol. The blacks and reds here are some of Glenshee's highest and longest runs: one heads well away from its parent lift into a deserted valley: great for zooming down after its flattish start. Beware the Glas Maol Poma: its violent launch can catch out unwary boarders and it's a long way to the top. From here, a minimum of three runs and two lifts are needed to return to the car park.

[The Cairnwell Chairlift, replaced by a triple-seater in early 2016, accesses the Tiger black (January 2011]

Snow and weather: Despite mostly grassy hillsides which only need a thin covering of snow to open, Glenshee's lowly height is its biggest weakness. The layout of the ski area means there isn't really an "upper mountain", and once snow melts from the runs and tow tracks in the middle valley it prevents access to the usually white third valley. On the plus side, grooming is usually excellent which helps preserve the snow. Much of the area is also well sheltered and wind-related closures are fairly rare.

[Sunnyside offers good views of the Cairnwell part of the ski area and the roadside nursery slopes (centre)]

Queues: Glenshee is the closest ski area to much of southern and eastern Scotland, and their large population centres. Add in a car park of a similar size to some small countries and it could be a recipe for disaster. But this is where 22 lifts come in to play, including three chairlifts from car park level: when most lifts are running, only Glas Maol and Meall Odhar tend to build painful queues. Arrive early or hire off-site for equipment rental though - this does get busy.

Facilities: Ski school and ski / snowboard hire are available, but see paragraph above. Three cafés are usefully spread around the ski slopes: at the base, at the top of the Baddoch chairlift and in the middle valley respectively. All are similar and mostly serve no-frills food. Braemar has the best range of accommodation, about ten miles to the north. Parking at the centre is rarely an issue, but the furthest spaces are a bit of a walk from the lifts.

Access: The A93 is prone to blockage by heavy snowfall and drifting, especially the long southern approach from Bridge of Cally. Check traffic reports en route if snow gates have been closed overnight. Dundee: 1 hour; Aberdeen: 1 1/2 hours; Edinburgh: 1 3/4 hours; Glasgow: 2 hours

[The Meall Odhar Poma can be a bottleneck, particularly mid-morning as people head for Glas Maol]

Downhill skiing in the Scottish Highlands: 5 ski centres, 4 golden rules:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Use winterhighland for independent, up-to-date information on conditions and lift opening - easily the best online resource for Scottish skiing.
  4. 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.
[Glenshee piste map (2016/17 season)]

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