Roger Cox: Plentiful snow is great, but if skiers can’t get to it they will slope off
Remember a few weeks ago, when I said the 2011/12 Scottish ski season had been a disaster? Well, I was wrong.
Turns out it wasn’t a disaster after all – just a very, very late developer. Like some sort of cosmic apology for a catastrophic March, during which a lack of snow cover prevented all five Scottish ski centres from operating for the first time since records began, the weekend of 28 and 29 April saw world-class conditions at Cairn Gorm. And no, that’s not “world-class” as in “world-class for Scotland”. If you’d paid top dollar to travel to an exclusive resort in the Alps or the Rockies, you couldn’t have been more delighted with the snow cover on the upper half of the mountain, or with the hours upon hours of blazing sunshine, or, indeed, with the uncharacteristic lack of wind.
It had snowed so hard during the week that avalanche warnings were posted for the Head Wall and Coronation Wall – the steep, unpisted areas directly beneath the summit of Cairn Gorm – but nobody seemed to take much notice. Cairn Gorm’s operations manager Colin Matthews estimated that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 skiers on the hill on the Saturday, and by the middle of the afternoon there were so many tracks criss-crossing the top portion of the mountain it seemed as if at least half the snow-sliders in attendance must have made the short hike from the top of the Funicular Railway to the top of Cairn Gorm to sample the sweet rush of riding that giant, frozen wave. Even after the lifts had stopped running it was still possible to find fresh tracks here, and some continued to ski laps late into the evening.
The pistes – particularly the M1 and the White Lady – were in great nick all the way down to the Middle Station, and over on the Ptarmigan Bowl, Olympic halfpipe star Lesley McKenna was at the controls of a snowcat, building features for the terrain park. The official resort line was “probably the best conditions we’ve had all season” but you couldn’t help wondering if that was a somewhat cautious understatement. I have a feeling it may be a while before we get another weekend as good as this one; then again, a month ago I said the 2011/12 season was a write-off, so perhaps we’ll get the day to end all days in mid-July.
I’d like nothing more than to spend the rest of this column waxing lyrical about Cairn Gorm’s bumper weekend, but all was not well in paradise, and it would be misleading to pretend otherwise. Predictably, given the perfect conditions, queuing was an issue. On Saturday, one young family of four complained of having to wait an hour and a half just to hire skis. There was only one ski tech working in the hire shop, plus a helper entering people’s details on a computer. Granted, a lot of seasonal workers would have left the area in March, when the snow seemed to have disappeared for good, but surely in Aviemore, the ski capital of the UK, finding a trained ski tech in April shouldn’t have been an impossible task. The frazzled mum said she was “never coming back” and looked like she meant it. Then, of course, there were the queues for the funicular. As the snow was only deep enough to run tows from the middle station up, this was the only way of getting people up the hill from the overflowing car park, creating a huge bottleneck. The queues were so long on Sunday morning that, after waiting for about half an hour, the guy in front of me – charged with buying tickets for his wife and two friends – suddenly announced he was going home, taking his £84 of ticket money with him. A few minutes later, I got chatting with skier Mike Clasper from Thurso. We decided we’d be quicker hiking the 50 minutes to the top station than waiting around for the train, so we left too, and had a great morning riding both sides of the Fiacaill Ridge. Another unspent £42. When we reached the middle station and looked back down the hill, we saw at least 30 people on the trail behind us who had evidently had the same idea.
How could the resort prevent all this revenue being lost – and some customers being put off for good? By reinstating the Coire na Ciste and West Wall chairlifts, providing a second access point to the mountain. See www.savetheciste.com for more on a campaign to do just that.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North