Ready, steady, snow! The snap of cold weather has given an early boost to Scotland’s winter sports season.
Two snow centres will open today to skiers and snowboarders, almost two weeks earlier than last year.
Enough has already fallen at CairnGorm Mountain and the Lecht to allow both to make plans to welcome hundreds to the slopes this weekend – the official start to winter.
CairnGorm, recently ranked 15th in a list of best-value ski resorts in Europe, is opening to skiers and snowboarders ten days earlier than last year, while the Lecht is opening for business nine days earlier, raising hopes of a bumper season.
Last year was a poor season for Scotland’s five centres and the top ski resort recorded the fewest number of days for snowsports in over a decade as it celebrated its 50th anniversary. CairnGorm attracted a total of 66,463 skiers and snowboarders – just over half the record total set the previous year.
But it has a foot of snow already on the upper slopes and has been deploying four mobile snow guns, hired from an Italian manufacturer, to build up a base in key areas.
Colin Kirkwood, the resort’s marketing manager, said: “It’s looking good.
“We have good numbers of people renewing their season tickets, so people seem to be keen to get out there as soon as we have got some good skiing to offer them. And it looks like we will be able to do that, starting on Saturday.
“We generally say our season starts in December and goes until April, so we are really bang on target, starting on 1 December.”
At CairnGorm Mountain, the Ciste and Polar Express tows will be operating and the funicular will make middle-station stops.
Colin Matthew, the resort’s operations manager, said: “Although last season was not the best, we were able to take the opportunity to trial one of these guns in a number of areas of the hill and it performed extremely well, with the gun making technical snow for over 300 hours.
“Equipped with four of them, and with the right weather conditions, we will be able to undertake some serious snowmaking in different parts of the mountain, whether it be creating a base, topping up natural cover or restoring thinly covered and scoured areas.”
The Lecht will open for the first time today, with four runs having good cover on the upper and middle sections and five lifts expected to operate.
Spokeswoman Pat Matheson said: “We are ready to open on Saturday. The whole mountain is covered in snow and we have six inches of snow in some places.
“We might even have six runs open tomorrow. We didn’t open until 10 December last year, so this is great news.”
She added: “It is always slow at this time of year with people Christmas shopping and going to Christmas parties, but we should have reasonable numbers tomorrow.
“We had a quick end to the season last year so having an early start is an bonus.”
Nevis Range at Fort William is closed for gondola maintenance and due to open on 20 December. Glenshee is “waiting on the snow returning”. A Glencoe spokesman said: “More snow is needed before we can start skiing.”