Cairngorm Mountain Overview
The UK isn’t at the top of any lists when it comes to skiing destinations, and the majority of British skiers and snowboarders can be found getting their snow fixes in Austria, Canada, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. However, the Scottish Highlands are home to five ski areas (see the here for details of them all), which although quite small by European standards are of a respectable size globally. The Cairngorm Mountain ski area is the second largest ski area in Scotland (behind Glenshee), and was the second place I ever tried snowboarding (after Pas de la Casa in Andorra)
Terrain, snow, off-piste, nightlife, access, etc for Cairngorm Mountain
As with Pas de la Casa, it’s hard for me to do a decent write up for Cairngorm. It was only my second time snowboarding, and in the early days when you’re still learning it’s hard to judge one ski area against another, at least from a skiing point of view. What I can say is that the facilities were good and the views were outstanding. The ski area’s located in the Cairngorm national park, and that area of Scotland is simply stunning – the mountains reflected in the lochs make for great photo opportunities. We stayed in the nearby town of Aviemore (the ski area itself doesn’t have accommodations) from where it’s a 10-minute drive to the ski area. To get there we’d driven up from Liverpool (where we were all university students at the time), a 7-or-so-hour drive, and the final leg after Edinburgh has you driving through gorgeous scenery on empty roads – a driver’s dream!
We’d only gone up for the weekend, driving on Friday, two days riding, and then the idea was to drive back on Monday. Those first two days saw us scraping around on bullet proof ice, with the wind challenging gravity to determine which direction we would go… not an awful lot of fun, especially for a beginner, but the sun was out and at least we had those fantastic views to take in. And then on the Monday we awoke to six inches of fresh powder, with more still falling; the room was booked for one more night, Tuesday lectures were written off, and we got one more day of riding in. The visibility was terrible for most of the day, but rolling around in fresh deep snow was plenty of fun and made up for the previous two days.
It’s a pretty small ski area by European standards, but would be considered a decent size in e.g. New Zealand or Japan. Still, good riders will have it skied out in a couple of hours and furthermore the snow conditions are usually poor (our lucky third day notwithstanding). So would I recommend going to Aviemore to ski? To be honest, only if you are already in Scotland. Even from northern England it’s quite a long way to drive and you’d be better off with a cheap flight to France or Austria (or elsewhere in Europe e.g. Andorra or Bulgaria), and from London it’s no contest – London is actually physically closer to the Alps than it is to the Scottish Highlands, and the Alps offer so much more terrain and almost always better snow. But with that said, the folks at Cairngorm Mountain do a good job with what they’ve got and if the snow’s good you can have a good day’s riding. In any case, I always recommend any visitor to the UK to make time for Scotland; it’s an achingly beautiful place. It’s probably best to go in summer so you can enjoy some hiking and hopefully have reasonable weather, but if you’re visiting in winter then why not have a day on the slopes while you’re at it?
Resources and Useful Links for Riding at Cairngorm Mountain
Snow Forecast for Cairngorm (snow-forecast.com does exactly what it says on the tin, and is my usual go to for accurate snow forecasts)