I nexplicably – to some – there are those who don’t ski or snowboard but if your family insists on an annual snowsports trip, there are plenty of other pursuits in and around the Scottish resorts in winter for those at a loose end with children.
All five ski centres have activities to keep the non-skiers happy. The Nevis Range in Fort William, for instance, operates Britain’s only mountain gondola system, which carries visitors – with or without planks strapped to their feet – to 650 metres up. At the top is a restaurant, The Snowgoose, which has seating outside for the sunny days. A walk back down dodging snow sports enthusiasts isn’t advised, but there are two marked trails from the top of the gondola through the snow to spectacular viewpoints, each taking an hour or so. The gondola ride for non-skiers is considerably cheaper than a day’s lift pass too at £11.50 for adults and £6.75 for children.
For a more energetic experience, the mountain bike trails at the foot of the range operate all year round and there are sledges and toboggans to hire here for very small children.
You can also experience a walk with snowshoes, available for hire for a full or half day (from £10.50) although you will need plenty of energy plus warm and waterproof clothes, with most of your time in the beginning likely to be spent trying to get back up after falling over. It is great fun, though, as long as there is plenty of soft snow to cushion your landing (01397 705825, www.nevisrange.co.uk).
At the Lecht ski centre, further north in the Cairngorms, tubing is offered, where non skiers can choose to slide down the nursery slopes on a huge bouncy tyre, which is particularly suitable for small children. An hour’s tube hire includes the magic carpet lift to take you back up to the start, time and again, and costs £15. Visitors are advised to call beforehand to check the snow conditions (01975 651440, www.lecht.co.uk).
If you would rather go up than down, ten minutes from Glencoe at Kinlochleven is The Ice Factor, an indoor/outdoor adventure centre for climbers. While their indoor ice wall – the highest – in Europe sounds daunting, it is a great experience for the brave, the only stipulation is that users should have a shoe size of at least a UK 4. The centre also has two rock climbing walls, a boulder area and a free-standing outdoor aerial adventure course described as very scary, but very safe. Prices start at £15 for half an hour on a rock wall for very young children. For older children and adults, each activity is £25 for an hour’s instructor-led climb with family or multi activity discounts available. There is a shop, restaurant and bar and booking is advised (01855 831100, www.ice-factor.co.uk).
For a taste of the frozen north, there are several centres in the Highlands that offer a sled dog experience. A journey powered by huskies can be a hair-raising ride and doesn’t have to include snow as the dogs pull wheeled buggies in its absence. There are alternative activities related to the sport too: at the Cairngorm Husky Sled Dog Centre, for example, trips are priced at £60 for adults, £40 for children over six, but you don’t have to ride with the dogs. You can opt for the kennel and museum tour which includes meeting the dogs, learning how to look after them and hearing about the sport. Prices for the tour are a reasonable £8 for adults, £4 for children (www.sled-dogs.co.uk).
Least expensive of all is to watch a sled dog race. The Aviemore Sled Dog Rally is held in the Glenmore Forest Park at the end of January and is a sight to behold, but there are smaller meets which welcome spectators and don’t charge entrance fees. This weekend Culbin Forest, Morayshire is holding a race and on 15-16 March, Bowland Trails, Perthshire plays host.
The unbelievable cacophony of noise surrounding any sled dog gathering is half the fun, and should even drown out the children for a while.