From Glencoe to the Cairngorms, Scotland offers up the best skiing Britain has to offer. Set amidst a stunning scenery of peaks which spread out in every direction, the plateau'd mountains offer up steep on-piste descents, while the right to roam opens up the country to numerous opportunities for off-piste powder. However, a windy day can quickly become a blizzard the next and resorts can often see blankets of snow that leave them closed until the middle of February. "Having a Plan B is essential when planning to ski in Scotland" we were told by Glencoe CEO Andy Meldrum, "a sense of adventure is key". Yet there are now no less than 6 resorts operating out of Scotland. So we wondered: what do they do not only to survive, but thrive.
Known formally as the White Corries for its ability to hold snow deep into spring, Glencoe was the first dedicated ski area to open in Scotland. Situated on the Munro Meal A’Bhiridh - it saw skiing as early as 1939. But it wasn't until 1956 that it was truly brought to life by Philip Rankin. The founding father of skiing in Scotland.
An RAF pilot in WWII, Rankin was shot down in 1945. Suffering a damaged back, he eventually made it home were the Dr suggested some old-fashioned exercise as a remedy. "I was never more happy in my life than the day I threw my bowler hat over the suspension bridge into the Clyde and took to the hills." he would later write.
Then sometime in 1954, he stumbled upon the White Corries and immediately recognised that the deep packed snow would last well into the spring. Before long he was leading a group to begin construction on its first ever permanent tow lift. By hand, they lugged cable and motors up the mountainside. By 1956 the tow was finished and skiing in Scotland had found a home.
Now Glencoe operates 8 electric lifts, with plans to build a 3 person lift in the summer. They are also working on securing SnowFactory technology, ensuring that seasons start and end on the same dates each year. This recent round of progress is spearheaded by Andy Meldrum, and seems to be of the same spirit and enthusiasm Rankin possessed when he opened Glencoe all of those years ago.
Familiar with the resort at the age of 14, Andy had spent many winters and summers on its slopes as a skiing enthusiast. That was until one summer when he heard from a chairlift operator that it may have opened for its last season. Andy decided to take it on and immediately he and his wife, Ann, set out their vision for the future. "We removed some 25 ton of old equipment from the mountain that year" and their work continued throughout the summer were they added biking, tubing and walking tours to their operations on the mountain. "We're even adding a massive zipline. From the top of the access chair to the base."
Despite their hard work, global warming remains a constant threat, and the impact it has had on the winter season at Glencoe appears to be taking effect. The above photograph was taken in 2014, showing what it looks like when blankets of snow cover the existing infrastructure. "On average winters have become snowier and windier. Since 2010 we have opened up 6 times before Christmas. This year skiing began in November. Before 2010 we never had enough snow".
Although as it stands, the climate is good for business, Glencoe has already acted on its environmental responsibilities. Andy and his team have electrified all of Glencoe's chairlifts and implemented a charging point for electric cars in the car park. While the hopeful implementation of the SnowFactory will further reduce the energy consumption of the resort. Although we can surely expect our winters to worsen, with extreme blankets of snowfall more regularly falling over the mountain resorts, it is clear that the enthusiasm and spirit shown by the likes of Philip Rankin & Andy and his team will see skiing in Scotland through for many more seasons to come.
And If you're planning on hitting the slopes soon, check out our 12 facts on snow in Scotland here.