BOASTING some of the finest views in Scotland, CairnGorm Mountain ski area occupies two corries on the north face of the Cairngorm Plateau: Coire Cas and Coire Na Ciste.
From the car park, a funicular railway takes skiers up to the Ptarmigan Restaurant – Scotland’s highest eatery, at an altitude of 1097m – and from here it’s possible to access either side of the resort.
A short traverse to the east will take you to the gentle beginners’ slopes of the Ptarmigan Bowl, which lead to the more advanced terrain of the Coire Na Ciste proper. Traverse to the west and you can drop into the Cas side, either tackling the steep reds following the line of the funicular back down the hill – the White Lady and the M1 Race Piste – or cruising the blues and greens that meander through the bottom of the corrie. If the train’s busy, using surface lifts can be a good way of maximising your time on the snow. The Car Park T-Bar takes you to the Ciste side of the mountain, while the Day Lodge Poma leads to the Ciste via a blue run, Over Yonder.
If the snow is in good condition all the way down to car park level, there are good beginner runs beneath the middle station, notably Lower Slopes, which has its own mini poma tow. Later in the season, however, as the snow retreats up the hill, the higher altitude Ptarmigan Bowl is the best bet, often holding its snow into late April and early May. The wide expanse of the bowl is ideal for learning, and there’s a Kidz Zone here too, served by the Polar Express Poma.
CairnGorm is a great mountain for cruising around, and the speed of the funicular (it can go from car park level to the Ptarmigan Restaurant in four minutes, not including mid-station stops) means it’s possible to clock up plenty of miles before lunch. If you’re looking to kick back and enjoy the views, ridge runs like the M2 and the Fiacaill Ridge are good options, while the natural gullies of the Gunbarrel (in Coire Cas) and the Ciste Gully offer more challenging terrain. Those with a need for speed should head for the White Lady and the M1 Race Piste.
Once there’s enough snow to get it up and running, the terrain park in the Ptarmigan Bowl will keep hardcore freestylers happy for hours, and by late season it can feature some truly massive kickers. This year there’s also the potential for quarter and halfpipes to be built, thanks to the acquisition of a Pipe Magician.
The only marked black runs within the resort boundary are the West Wall of Coire Na Ciste and No 2 Gully on the East Wall of the Ciste. These are both good, steep options, but many advanced skiers and boarders are drawn to CairnGorm not because of what lies inside the ski area but because of what lies just outside it.
A short hike from the Ptarmigan Restaurant takes you on to the summit of Cairn Gorm itself, and from here the sub-arctic tundra of the Cairngorm Plateau stretches out for miles, just begging to be explored. This is serious ski touring country, however, and should only be attempted by experienced backcountry skiers and boarders. It is now possible to buy a low-cost ski mountaineering ticket specifically for accessing this area of the mountain. It permits one-off use of two items of uplift only (not including the funicular).
With its comfy sofas and roaring fire, the Cas Bar at the bottom of the funicular is a popular place to rest tired limbs, while later in the evening Aviemore’s main drag is your best bet for après fun. The Skiing Doo and Winking Owl are long-established watering holes (also serving food) popular with locals, and the pizza restaurant La Taverna is usually good and busy. Slightly off the beaten track, meanwhile, the Old Bridge Inn is a gem of a pub, serving seriously good food and drink, and offering a live music programme that would put many big city venues to shame. ❋
• Altitude: 640-1,200m/2,099-3,937ft
• Pisted runs: 30km/18½ miles
• Longest run: 3.3km/2 miles
• Max vertical descent: 560m/1,837ft
• Number of lifts: 11 – 1 funicular, 6 Pomas, 4 T-bars
• Number of runs: 22 (7 green, 6 blue, 8 red, 1 black)
• Uplift capacity: 8,042 per hour
• Snowmaking: Yes, 5 snow cannons
• Cafes/restaurants: Two at base, one on mountain
• Off piste: Yes, 10sq km/4sq miles
• Ski/snowboard school: Yes
• Ski/snowboard hire: Yes, in person and online
• Ski/snowboard clothing hire: Yes, in person and online
• Shop: Yes
• Artificial slope: Not on-site, but available locally • ❋ Ski guiding: Yes
• Sledging: No
• Terrain park: Yes, for season 2013-14 plan up to 3 different parks
• Webcams: Yes
NEW FOR 2013/14
• A new Pipe Magician will enable the pisting team to cut quarter and halfpipes.
• Snowmaking capacity has been further increased, with a new, larger TechnoAlpin TF10 added to the four existing snow cannons.
• The installation of a new Skidata ticketing system and electronic gates, plus the facility to top up tickets online should reduce queues at ticket office.
• A new equipment hire system will allow skiers and boarders to reserve equipment in advance.
CairnGorm Ski Area, Aviemore, PH22 1RB
• Tel: 01479 861261
• email: firstname.lastname@example.org