Scotland’s ski season is set to begin at the weekend – just 170 days after the previous one ended – sparking fresh hope of a bumper winter on the slopes.
CairnGorm Mountain, the busiest of Scotland’s five snowsports resorts, has had decent snowfall over the last week and expects to open on Saturday on what will be the earliest start to a season for five years.
The 2012-13 season ended on 19 May, but the resort plans to welcome skiers and boarders to its Coire Na Ciste fairway on the upper part of the mountain.
Operations Manager Colin Matthew said: ”We plan to offer snowsports on Saturday on the Ciste, with a groomed marked run on skiers’ left of the fairway.”
However, it much depends on the weather, as winds have been gusting up to 70mph.
CairnGorm marketing manager Colin Kirkwood said: “Although this is not the earliest we have opened in recent times – we started skiing on 1 November in 2008 – it is great to have enough snow to ski on in November as it whets the appetite of our customers and creates a real buzz of anticipation about the place as well as spurring on those who have not already done so to purchase season tickets.
“Advance sales of these already match last season’s total. But it is not just skiers and snow boarders who are attracted by the snow.
“The funicular operates all year round for visitors wanting to get high up in the Cairngorms to enjoy the view from the terrace at the mountain railway’s top station.
“They seem to see the presence of snow there as a bonus and it certainly adds to the atmosphere of the Christmas market which we are operating in the Ptarmigan top station throughout November.”
The resort has undertaken significant maintenance of its skiing infrastructure during the summer.
Approximately 3km of new post and rail snow fencing has been erected in order to catch more snow for pushing onto the pistes and snowmaking capacity has been increased with a new larger snow cannon in addition to the present four cannons.
A new motor has been installed in the heavily used Coire Cas tow.
A replacement vehicle for gritting and ploughing has been acquired to help keep the roads clear along with a six-wheeled ATV with tracking system which will greatly facilitate movement of the maintenance team to troubleshoot around the hill.
New hydraulic rams have also been fitted to the pisting machines to enable the movement of snow cannons around the hill.
At Glencoe it is also looking promising for an early start to the season.
A spokesman said: “It’s been a pretty snowy week on the upper mountain with strong to gale force winds and heavy snow starting to fill in the upper runs.
“There is still a fair way to go before we start skiing as Glencoe needs a lot of snow and a few freeze thaw cycles before the rocks and gullies are covered and it’s safe to ski.
“However for this time of year it is looking good so hopefully we will get another early start to the season like last year.”
Scotland’s most recent ski season was one of the busiest in years, according to the sport’s national body.
Ski-Scotland said there were 290,996 skier days between November last year and May 2013.
Skiing and snowboarding at CairnGorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, Nevis Range and The Lecht was also estimated to have raised more than £29m for the economy.
The season was the best since 2009-10, when there were a record 374,789 skier days.
A skier day means one person who skis or snowboards on one day. Many of the same people return to the slopes several times during the season.