Ski: Nevis Range

[Looking over the lower slopes, Loch Lochy in the distance]

Scotland's swankiest lift system, its highest slopes, views of Ben Nevis and the sea (well, a sea loch), and a notable absence of queues. What's not to like? Okay, it's a shame about that wind-affected access gondola and the long drive from the Central Belt, but Nevis Range definitely deserves more recognition from the numerous skiers who choose to go elsewhere.

Scroll down for a more in-depth guide.

[Skies clearing over Ben Nevis, seen from Spectre at the summit]

Name: Nevis Range ★★★
Location: Off A82 7 miles east of Fort William, G.R.: NN 172774 / agreeable requires height
Day lift pass (full area) (2016/17): £32.50 (adults), £20.50 (children)
Equipment hire (2016/17): £23.50 (adults), £17.50 (children)
Average season (snowsports): Late December to April, conditions permitting

Don't miss: The Back Corries - a huge expanse of steep, expert terrain accessed from near the summit and sporadically served by the Braveheart Chair. Unmarked, not always patrolled and often with large cornices to negotiate as you enter.

[Looking up the Goose T-bar]

Guide to the slopes:

The ski area doesn't really begin until the top of the fancy Gondola, although once in a blue moon you can pick your way down forestry tracks and mountain bike trails on skis, back to the car park which is nearly at sea level. Scattered around the gondola station there's an extensive array of beginner lifts and runs, making up Zone B which is also handily covered by a cheaper lift pass. First-timers can start off on short green runs served by the Rope Tow, Linnhe Button and Lochy Button, but shouldn't neglect the Rob Roy T-bar with its greens and blues accessed by the two-way Great Glen Chair. This T-bar sits on its own on an often more snowy north-east aspect. Rob Roy's Return traverses back to the gondola top station and is a decent long, easy run. Also in Zone B, the longer Alpha Button takes you to ideal progression runs, with Alpha, Yockies and Rabbit Run returning fairly directly to the base, and Macpherson's providing an alternative route to the Rob Roy area.

For intermediates upward, the rest of the area is where most of the interest lies. From the top of the Alpha Button, useful traverses take you to the Quad, Goose and Summit - respectively the only four-seater chairlift in Scotland, a T-bar and a button lift. All serve lovely wide runs - The Goose's broad gully is probably Nevis's signature run and links into the narrower Allt Snechda gully to give a great, long cruise. To skier's left, Sidewinder deserves a mention, zig-zagging across to the top of the quad; meanwhile, Far West goes exactly there, with some of the best views of Loch Eil. The blues off the summit button are Scotland's highest marked runs, and resemble an Alpine glacier area, often with excellent snow. Views toward Ben Nevis from Spectre are sensational.

For experts, feast your eyes on the left half of the piste map. Warren's T-bar serves long, unpisted blacks, some susceptible to wind-scouring. However, it's the Back Corries where Nevis Range really comes into its own. If suitably equipped with avalanche gear, and snow conditions make it safe to do so, you can drop (usually literally, off cornices) from the aptly-named Lemming Ridge into a vast area of off-piste, with yellow itineraries for inspiration on the piste map. If the Braveheart Chair is open, nearly 600 vertical metres of lift-served powder may be available, after which you can traverse back around to the front of the mountain via the Rob Roy area. In good conditions, nowhere in Scotland, and few places in Europe, come close to the Back Corries for lift-assisted off-piste.

[Early season, looking towards the Back Corries]

Snow and weather: The furthest north-west of the ski centres, Nevis Range's weather can be very different to the other snowsports destinations - sometimes missing out on snow while other areas benefit, and vice versa. Snow in the Goose gully and on the summit is usually reliable, but lower surface lifts are needed to access these - once the Alpha Button uptrack melts, the area quickly becomes disjointed. The beginner areas are low and can have poor snow, although Rob Roy is often an exception (see above). The Braveheart Chair in the Back Corries usually opens late season once successive westerly storms fill them up with snow, and only when avalanche risk is deemed low enough. Beware - the traverse back to the front of the mountain may not have snow, even when the main itineraries do. Wind-wise, the Summit button and access Gondola are vulnerable. Piste grooming is excellent, and often continues throughout the day.

[The Quad Chair swallows up queues and crowds brilliantly]

Queues: Lack of crowds and queues is one of Nevis Range's biggest draws. The high capacity access Gondola whisks everyone up onto the mountain without waiting, and the Quad Chair swallows up huge numbers further up. In good snow, multiple beginner lifts and slopes prevent the nursery areas from becoming too crowded. The isolated northerly location helps - for most customers, other ski centres are a shorter drive away.

Facilities: Ski and snowboard hire is spacious, with a newly launched "premium" range also available. Ski school is available. There are three places to eat - the Pinemarten at the base serves good food, and the Snowgoose at the gondola top station has something bordering on Alpine mountain restaurant ambience. The Goose T-Hut is little more than a shack and opens at peak weekends. Accommodation is best sought in Fort William, a few minutes' drive away. Parking shouldn't be an issue - the car park's huge.

Access: The A82 from Glasgow or Inverness is reliably kept open. From further east, the A9 / A86 combo is also fairly safe, although the high parts of the A9 sometimes shut due to snow, especially overnight. Inverness: 1 1/2 hours; Glasgow: 2 1/2 hours; Edinburgh: 2 3/4 hours

[Looking towards Loch Eil from Inside Edge]


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.
[Nevis Range piste map (2016/17 season)]

Comments

  1. Very informative post, Tim. Clearly a lot of effort went in to putting all this information together. I doubt I would visit your fair country in the winter time. But, if I did, this post would definitely pique my interest in trying out Scottish skiing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Brendan! You're probably right that winter isn't the best time to visit. But there's plenty to explore whatever the season (and weather!).

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