IN THE winter of 1952/3, skiing pioneer Philip Rankin wrote a letter to the Scottish Ski Club Journal suggesting that the mountain known as Meall a’Bhuiridh in Glencoe would be the ideal place to build the country’s first serious ski resort. The hill, he said, “has an ample corrie deeply scored with ravines which collect such a mass of snow as to be virtually impervious to even weeks of thaw”.
Rankin then set about turning his vision into a reality, and Glencoe’s lifts hummed into life for the first time in 1956. Now, 60 years after he first made his plans public, the lifts are still running, and the ravines of Meall a’Bhuiridh continue to provide some of the best skiing and boarding in the country.
From the car park, the Access Chairlift takes you soaring over spectacular, often partially frozen waterfalls to the Eagle’s Rest (a handy toilet stop), and from here the Plateau Poma links to several easy-angled green runs. To reach more advanced terrain, take Mugs Alley from the top of the Plateau Poma to the Plateau Cafe. From here, the Cliffhanger Chairlift and The Wall T-Bar transport you roughly halfway up the face of Meall a’Bhuiridh, allowing you to drop into a network of reds and blues. Continue on up the hill, via either the Rannoch Button or the Main Basin T-Bar, and you’ll reach some of the most talked-about runs in Scottish skiing. Exit the lifts to the right, and you can take your pick from a number of cruisey blues, the most westerly of which, Etive Glades, offers life-changing views of the vast bulk of Buachaille Etive Mor further down the glen. Exit left, and things start getting serious: Spring Run is marked as a red, but it’s probably one of the most challenging reds you’ll find anywhere. The mythical Flypaper, meanwhile, is one of the steepest in-bounds runs in Europe.
Between them, Plateau Run and the Low Road provide as benign a learning environment as you could wish for. The pistes are wide and gently sloping, they’re served by an easy-to-use drag lift and rope tow and they only tend to be used by more advanced skiers towards the end of the day, when they start leaving the upper reaches of the mountain and heading back towards the car park.
If you want to be able to soak up the scenery while you ski, head for Main Basin and Etive Glades. For more varied terrain, the runs around mid-mountain are worth a look, particularly the dramatic Canyon, with its steep, rocky sides. For a couple of minutes of sheer, lung-busting exhilaration, meanwhile, head over to the Spring Run – marked as a red, but no pushover with a pitch of around 30 degrees.
There’s been much debate over the years about how steep the Flypaper actually is, partly because the incline varies slightly depending on the snow level. Most people agree that the angle is at least 40 degrees, but some have put it as high as 45.
Either way, it’s a steep, hairy beast of a run, and only experienced skiers and boarders should attempt it. If you fall, chances are you won’t stop until you get to the bottom. To the east of the drop-in point for the Flypaper, there’s another equally challenging route known as Baillie’s Gully, which joins the marked run about halfway down.
Backcountry options in the area include the nearby White Corries, and there’s a free transceiver park on the hill where you can practise search and rescue skills. A terrain park usually gets built in the Main Basin once there’s enough snow.
The Log Cabin Cafe in the car park is now fully licensed and open until 10.30pm. If you’re camping at the Glencoe campsite (which has camper van hook-ups) or staying at one of Glencoe’s new microlodges, bed will only be a short stumble away. If you’re looking to party later into the night, check out the bars at the nearby hotels: the Clachaig Inn, the Kings House Hotel and the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.
Pisted runs: 20km/12½ miles
Longest run: 3.5km/2¼ miles
Max vertical descent: 803m/2,634ft
Number of lifts: 8 – 2 Chairs, 1 Poma, 1 Button, 1 rope tow, 2 T-bars
Number of runs: 19 (4 green, 6 blue, 7 red, 2 black)
Uplift capacity: 4,300 per hour
Cafes/restaurants: One at base, one on mountain
Off piste: Yes, 3.5sq km/1¼sq miles, with access to further ski mountaineering terrain
Ski/snowboard school: Yes
Ski/snowboard hire: Yes
Ski/snowboard clothing hire: Yes
Artificial slope: No
Ski guiding: Yes
Sledging/other snow fun: Yes, free sledging
Terrain park: Yes, designated park area with rails and jumps
NEW FOR 2012/13
10 microlodges, each sleeping 4, and 10 campervan hook-ups
Showers and drying rooms
Fully-licensed café will remain open until 10.30pm each evening
The Coe Cup (in March) will now be an official Freeride World Cup qualifying event
Address: Whitecorries, Glencoe, Argyll, PH49 4HZ
Tel: 01855 851226