Ski: Lecht 2090

[Beginner slopes by the Lecht Day Lodge]

With a dozen lifts clinging to both sides of the roller-coaster Lecht 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 of the piste map are also worthwhile, so in good conditions all abilities can find enough to do. 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.

[Looking across the valley from the Buzzard Poma to the steep Falcon runs]

📌 Lecht 2090 ★☆☆
Location: Summit of the A939 Lecht Pass, G.R.: NJ 247129 ///fond.depending.sofa
Day lift pass (2017/18): £30 (adults), £15 (children)
Equipment hire (2017/18): £22 (adults), £12.50 (children); discount for booking equipment and lift pass together.
Average season (snowsports): 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: separate from the rest of the ski area and great for a blast in the afternoon sun.

[Aboard the Snowy Owl Chairlift]

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 they're named at the base of each lift. Lifts are named after birds you're likely to spot in the Cairngorms hill range. By far the most extensive aspect is to the west of the road; most of the main runs have a gentle start with a steeper section near the bottom, regardless of their grading.

Rising just over 100 metres vertical directly from the entrance to the Day Lodge is the Snowy Owl / Eagle face. Popular blue runs are served by the fast Grouse Poma and the slow old Snowy Owl triple chairlift - the splashes of new paint applied to the chairs aren't fooling anybody. The Face on skier's right had fun rollers on our December 2017 visit. Further to skier's right, the Eagle, Eaglet and Osprey drag lifts provide access to four more cruisey blues.

Close to the base is the truly excellent beginner area, served by Scotland's only two magic carpet lifts, a rope tow and the underused Kestrel Poma. The gentle green runs are covered by a cheaper lift pass, 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 novices. A rail park is usually set up underneath the chairlift, served by one of the carpet lifts.

Back at the top, to skier's left of the Snowy Owl Chairlift are the steepest slopes on the hill: the Falcon & Harrier reds and solitary Harrier black, served by eponymous 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". Large kickers are set up at the top in good snow conditions, perhaps ending rather abruptly in an area of peat hags (well, it's Scotland!). You can also ski back to the rest of the area by following one of a couple of blue traverses: Lang Stracht is a bit flat, but the lower A9 road is the fast route back home (said no-one ever - Ed.).

All the runs on the west side of the road 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, this is inconveniently sited a bit of a schlep above the valley bottom, so you have to carry your skis up to the lift base. As a result, the two excellent Buzzard reds and blue home run here tend to stay quiet for a while after opening, at least until people have summoned the energy to walk up.

[Afternoon sun on the Buzzard side, with great snow cover after a spell of northerly winds]

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.

[Quiet slopes even on a weekend: this is the Race Piste served by the Eagle Poma]

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 provided most lifts are open. 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: It's a good set-up. Ticket office, equipment hire, ski school 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 capacity is rarely (never?) a problem, and Tomintoul is 7 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. Note: the direct route from the Central Belt involves 4 high passes, so it may be better to use the longer A9 approach depending on road conditions. Inverness: 1 1/4 hours; Aberdeen: 1 1/2 hours; Edinbugh: 2 3/4 hours; Glasgow: 2 3/4 hours

[The excellent Day Lodge]

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.
[Lecht 2090 piste map (2017/18 season)]

[Top half of Lang Stracht]

[Ski tourers beyond the ski area boundary overlooking Donside]

[Heading back to base on the A9]

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