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FOUR SEASONS: TOP SCOTS SKI BEDS

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 5 March 2011

THE other day I was contacted by the owners of a new website which specialises in selling ski accommodation. Would I like to write a story about them? The website is run by a Scottish company so you’d think this would be a good subject for a journalist writing about skiing in Scotland’s National Newspaper. I did too, until I checked out the site.

I’m all for supporting homegrown businesses, but when I visited the website in question, I was surprised to find Scotland and its five ski resorts to be conspicuous by their absence. If I’d wanted to, I could have booked myself into any one of a huge range of hotels, apartments, condos and chalets in “the very best ski resorts throughout France, Switzerland, Austria, Canada and the USA”. But could I book accommodation close to Glencoe, Glenshee, Cairn Gorm, Nevis Range or the Lecht? No chance.

This missed opportunity for the indigenous ski industry struck me as a little sad, so, in an attempt to redress the balance, I’m going to spend the rest of this column convincing you that the best place to book your Easter ski or snowboard break is right here in Scotland.

Let’s start with the most fundamental thing of all: snow. Yes, I know, we don’t get as much of it as the Alps or the Rockies. Then again, Glenshee topped the world snowfall charts a couple of weeks ago and at Cairn Gorm they were reporting so much snow that the Gunbarrel and White Lady pistes – usually U-shaped gullies – had been completely filled in. Of course, it may not be blizzarding up in the hills by the time you read this, but the Scottish resorts have all received healthy amounts of white stuff over the last few months and it’s going to take a long time to melt, so there should be good skiing and boarding well into the spring.

There is a fixation, within the skiing media, with the joy of riding soft, freshly-fallen powder snow – and I’m as guilty of glamorising this side of the sport as anyone else. But there’s a lot more to life than powder. Back in the day, the Scottish ski season didn’t really get started until March and April, because that’s when the wind died down, the sun came out and warmer temperatures softened up the snow and made it more fun to ride. OK, a big, high-speed turn in spring snow isn’t quite as satisfying as a big, high-speed turn in powder, but even the most hardened powderhound would have to agree that, in terms of the feeling under your feet, there’s not a huge amount of difference. So don’t be fooled into thinking that, just because it’s not white and cold in the valleys any more, the skiing season’s over. Quite the opposite: conditions-wise, the next couple of months can often be the best bit of the year.

Then, of course, we come to accommodation. I’ve never visited Nevis Range or the Lecht (time is of the essence when you’re driving up from Edinburgh) but my experiences of the hotels that serve the other three hills have been nothing but positive.

The Crianlarich Hotel, just a short drive from Glencoe, used to be for tour buses only, but the new management have changed all that, and it’s now as skier-friendly as you like. They offer bargain-basement skier rooms, discounted lift tickets and a shuttle bus to the resort. There’s a cavernous new drying room, too, and – when I was there – fun après ski evenings with live folk music. It’s a while since I’ve been to the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar – I stayed there in March 2005 while covering the Braemar Telemark Festival (and no, long-time Scotsman readers, I still haven’t mastered telemark skiing). I remember what a beautiful old building it is, though, and I also remember the utter peacefulness of the village first thing on a Sunday morning – completely silent, except for snatches of birdsong and the gentle burbling of the Cluny Water.

My personal favourite, however, is the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore – the turreted Victorian confection you see directly in front of you as you emerge from Aviemore railway station. I love everything about it, from the ancient, hardwood ski locker in the foyer to the gigantic stuffed golden eagle that salutes you as you climb the stairs to bed. Would you find taxidermy like that in some soulless new-build condo in the Rockies? No you would not.

ski.visitscotland.com; www.crianlarich-hotel.co.uk; www.fifearmsbraemar.com; www.cairngorm.com

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