WANT to make the most of the snow and stay for the weekend? Powder-hound Roger Cox picks some of Scotland’s best ski-friendly accommodation
No matter where you live in mainland Scotland, it should be possible to get to a ski centre and back in a day. The five Highland resorts are all viable one-day propositions if you live in the Central Belt (as long as you don’t mind an early start) and if you live in the south of Scotland, Snow Factor in Glasgow and the recently opened Lowther Hills Ski Club near Wanlockhead should both be within easy striking distance.
Having said that, a weekend of skiing with an overnight stay is a much better option, for all kinds of reasons.
For a start, after an energetic day on the slopes, a cold beer in front of a warm fire is way more appealing than a long drive home in the dark – plus, by giving yourself two days in the mountains instead of one you double your chances of scoring blue skies and/or fresh snow.
In contrast to the big resorts in the Alps and the Rockies, there aren’t really slopeside hotels in Scotland as such (although there are slopeside hobbit houses – we’ll get to those in a minute).
However, there are plenty of great places to stay just a short drive from the snow, many of them considerably more atmospheric than the functional, nondescript hotels that tend to clutter up the base stations of many big, international resorts.
Over many years of chasing freshies around the country, I’ve had the pleasure of staying in some of Scotland’s top ski-friendly accommodation – this is by no means intended to be a definitive list, but here are a few of my favourites.
The Cairngorm Hotel, Aviemore
For a completely hassle-free ski weekend, the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore is hard to beat thanks to its proximity to both Aviemore railway station and the bus stop for the shuttle to the CairnGorm ski centre. If you’re not keen on driving long distances on wintry roads you can take the train to Aviemore on a Friday night, stumble about 50 yards across the street to the Cairngorm Hotel, get a good night’s sleep, and then stumble about 50 yards back across the street to the ski bus stop the following morning. There’s a wonderful old-school feel to the place too, from the wood panelling in the interior to the sets of antlers adorning the walls of the dining room. The vintage ski locker in the foyer is a nice touch, too.
Handy for: CairnGorm Mountain, cairngorm.com
The Moorings Hotel, Fort William
Just a ten-minute drive from the bottom of the Nevis Range gondola, the Moorings is ideal for those looking to get up the hill good ’n’ early. Its location on the banks of the Caledonian Canal is pretty special too, with the nearby engineering marvel known as Neptune’s Staircase attractively lit up at night. Since I was there a couple of years ago, an impressive-looking new wing has been added, with bedroom balconies carefully positioned to give the best possible view of Ben Nevis and the neighbouring mountains. On a clear day, then, you should be able to check the snow conditions on Aonach Mòr while sipping your morning coffee.
Handy for: Nevis Range, moorings-fortwilliam.co.uk
The Crianlarich Hotel, Crianlarich
Skiing and particularly snowboarding can be somewhat soggy pastimes, and nothing spoils the ambience of a tastefully decorated hotel room quite like having to hang wet socks, gloves, long-johns and salopettes from every available surface because there’s nowhere else to dry them. Fortunately the Crianlarich Hotel have their guests covered in this regard, with the most palatial boot room and drying facilities I’ve ever seen. You’re also just a half hour’s drive away from the Glencoe ski centre, and perhaps 45 minutes from the majestic ski touring paradise of the Ben Lawers Range, on the north side of Loch Tay.
Handy for: Glencoe, crianlarich-hotel.co.uk
The Dell of Abernethy, Nethy Bridge
There’s something a little bit magical about the Dell of Abernethy, a beautiful 200-year-old house situated on the edge of the majestic Abernethy Wood. There’s a range of self-catering accommodation available here, from the main house, Dell Lodge, which sleeps up to nine, to various converted outbuildings, the smallest of which is Little Dell, a snug apartment which sleeps just two. It’s all been extremely stylishly renovated by Polly and Ross Cameron, who go out of their way to make their guests feel welcome. Driving from here to CairnGorm Mountain takes about half an hour, and the Lecht is roughly the same distance away in the opposite direction. Ski centres are stormbound? No problem – get on your mountain bike and head off into the forest, which has an extensive network of trails. Ross and Polly can arrange rentals with local companies if you haven’t brought your own.
Handy for: Cairngorm/The Lecht, thedellofabernethy.co.uk
Just a stone’s throw from the access chairlift at Glencoe, as far as I’m aware Glencoe’s funky Hobbit Houses offer the only truly slopeside accommodation in Scotland. I haven’t got around to staying in one yet, but I’ve had a good enough nosy around these tubular dwellings to see that, while they’re fairly basic (you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag) and about as small as they look, they have everything an impatient powder-hound needs in order to hit the first lift of the day.
Handy for: Glencoe, glencoemountain.com/accommodation.html