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COMMENTARY: IT’S AN ILL WIND…

Published: The Scotsman, 30 November 2010

SNOW, we know, brings misery to thousands and costs the country millions, yet for Scottish skiers and snowboarders the bumper dumps of the last few days have been like Christmas come early.
Cairngorm, Glenshee and the Lecht are all hoping to open today, but you don’t have to travel to the ski resorts in the Highlands to make fresh tracks – with this much snow lying, pretty much any hill will do.

Yesterday morning, Arthur’s Seat was covered in a foot and a bit of fresh powder, and a handful of local ski nuts were up at the crack to take advantage. I set off just after 8am with my snowboard strapped to my backpack and jogged down to the parliament, passing cautious pedestrians and slow-moving, wheel-spinning cars.

My snowboard is what’s known as a splitboard – a board that snaps into two pieces to become touring skis, the better for accessing out-of-the-way powder stashes. So, under the shelter of the parliament’s giant awning, I broke my board into two fat, ugly-looking skis, attached sticky skins to the bottom (good for gaining uphill traction) and set off in the direction of The Seat.

I’d tried snowboarding on Arthur’s Seat last winter, so I already had a good idea of where I was heading. Just to the left of the peak as you look at it from Holyrood Park there’s a beautiful, steep-sided little bowl. It doesn’t give you a very long run – nothing more than a few turns, really – but its sides are pitched at just the right angle to give you a fun-sized adrenaline hit, and because of its basin-like shape it seems to collect more snow than anywhere else around.

The slight downside is the unruly vegetation that grows there – mostly bracken and long grass. Last January, my experience of the bowl was a bit too tussocky for comfort, but this time there was more snow, so I was hoping for a smoother ride.

On the path opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse I met a man and his wife on telemark (heels free) skis. The man was skiing to work in Duddingston, his wife was tagging along for fun. They cut me a nice set of parallel grooves that I was able to follow until just beneath St Anthony’s Chapel, where they turned left and I turned right and started to climb. I got to the top of the bowl a little quicker than planned, so I decided to have a warm-up run on the south-facing slope towards Dunsapie Loch. If Arthur’s Seat was a ski resort, this would be a green run – a bunny slope. Still, it was as good a place as any to get in the first turns of the winter. There was even a moment of hazy sunshine.

A quick hike back up to the top, and then on to the bowl. The snow had started to fall again – big, fat flakes – and the wind had picked up too, so by the time I got to the drop-in point I couldn’t see much. Didn’t matter though. That freefall powder buzz is the same whether you can see where you’re going or not.

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