Winter Fun and Games
It’s easy to find motivation for outdoor activities when we can feel the rays of sunlight on our skin. But in the cold and dark of winter an extra dose of inspiration is required to extract us from the warm comforts of our homes.
Here in the Highlands we’re fortunate that we don’t have far to look to find new and original ideas for keeping active, with countless options right here on our doorstep. And there’s no time like the present to discover how this excellent range of winter sports might inspire your next adventure…
We’ve pinpointed a selection of stops on the interactive map below:
The Highlands may not have the Alps, but you’d be surprised by just how much our own mountain ranges have to offer to skiers and snowboarders alike. Boasting the UK’s longest and most impressive pistes by quite some distance, the Highlands has five outdoor ski resorts with over 100km of runs to suit everyone from beginners to seasoned pros.
Little more than half an hour’s drive from our doorstep is Scotland’s oldest resort, Glencoe, whose breath-taking views of Buachaille Etive Mor have been giving skiers more than one reason to hit the slopes since the 1950s. Much has changed since then of course and the recent addition of a couple more lifts takes the total to nine, providing easy access to over 20km of runs, including both the longest and the steepest in the UK. Glencoe also benefits from the excellent ability of its natural basin to hold snow deep into the season, allowing skiing as late in the year as May!
Even closer to home, the Nevis Range features the only mountain gondola in the country, which zips visitors straight up from the car park to Aonach Moor at almost 4,000 feet. Beginners can enjoy a number of blue and green runs without straying far from the comfort of the top station’s restaurant, while the Back Corries are considered the closest thing Scotland has to an off-piste paradise for experienced skiers and snowboarders.
The other three resorts are all to be found in the Cairngorms, including Glenshee, the largest in Britain and the closest thing you’ll get to an alpine atmosphere this side of Switzerland. Its snow-filled playground stretches for 2,000 acres across three valleys, giving visitors the chance to try out 36 runs, not to mention the great range of equipment hire facilities and tuition available.
Finding your Feet
There are more than a few ways to navigate the mountains of course and a more genteel pace affords a better chance to appreciate the magic of the scenery. By making a simple change to your footwear, you can enjoy even more stunning winter walks to admire how those snow-capped peaks glisten. Snow-shoeing makes it easy to traverse deep snow drifts, allowing more out-of-season access across otherwise tricky routes and the chance to witness the spectacular scenery and wildlife that stays hidden for the rest of the year.
Alternatively, there are some more familiar ways to get around. The world-class mountain biking runs of the Nevis Range and, more generally, throughout Scotland are hardly a secret, but not so many realise what an incredible biking adventure can be had in winter with a few wee tweaks. Several specialist hire shops offer fat bikes with wider tyres that can cope with the challenges of snowy surfaces.
But remember that not everything has to be such an effort. There’s no shame in not wanting to do the donkey work and we’ve got some of the most exhilarating dog sledding opportunities too. Whizz round on a sled pulled by huskies for a fun exploration of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, one of our favourite wildernesses in the Highlands.
Ice, Ice Baby
Every time the Winter Olympics come round there always seems to be one event that captures the public imagination: yes, it’s curling! Perhaps it’s the unusual image of broom-brandishers furiously brushing the ice or perhaps (if you’re British at least!) it’s the rare chance to follow an event with a genuine medal opportunity. But whatever the reason, for one fortnight every four years people suddenly become curling experts and everyone knows their stones and skips from their hog lines and hacks.
British (or, to be more accurate, Scottish) success shouldn’t be a surprise considering curling originated here in medieval times and was a popular winter pastime before developing into the regulated ‘bowls-on-ice’ sport we know today. Ice rinks and clubs up and down the country frequently run taster sessions – we’d recommend a trip to the Inverness Ice Centre for those interested in giving it a try.
And to find something with extra adrenaline on the ice you needn’t bother looking much further. Many of the very same ice rinks are designed for skaters, giving you the chance to test your pace on a circuit, bring out your inner Torvill and Dean in a figure skating routine, or simply go at your own pace for a bit of leisurely fun. Those at the opposite end of the spectrum, meanwhile, can get a healthy dose of crash, bang, and wallop with an ice hockey taster session.
Last but not least, we can’t ignore the Ice Factor, the only ice wall of its kind in the world! Built to replicate the fierce climbing conditions of imposing icy environments, this indoor facility in Kinlochleven features a 12m wall constructed from 500 tonnes of real snow and ice, offering different paths and difficulty levels for climbers of all abilities and coaches on hand for those in need of a few pointers.
Whatever way you choose to enjoy our winter wonderland, you’re guaranteed an ice time in the Highlands!