Skiers at the start gate of the 2019 Coe Cup, including the eventual winner of the male ski category, Rob Kingsland (yellow jacket)

Coe Cup 2019: A battle of different skiing styles

It’s been a patchy year, to put it mildly, for the Scottish Freedom Series, Scotland’s competitive backcountry skiing and snowboarding circuit. The first two events of the season, at the Ben Lawers Range in February and at Nevis Range at the start of March, had to be cancelled due to lack of snow, and for a while it seemed as if the third and final stop on the tour, the Coe Cup at Glencoe, might go the same way. In the end, though, Mother Nature offered a miraculous little weather window on Saturday, sandwiched in between a whiteout on Friday afternoon and gale force winds on Sunday.

Things are looking up in the west: a pisting machine at Glencoe following the recent heavy snow. PIC: Glencoe Mountain

Scotland’s ski resorts gear up for a strong end to the season

For much of the northern hemisphere, this winter has been a veritable snowpocalypse. In North America, snowfall records have been tumbling from sea to shining sea. At the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia, the season got off to a dream start with 384cm of fresh snow in December – just a shade over the long-standing December record of 380cm, set all the way back in 1994. There were huge numbers recorded at resorts all the way down the Rocky Mountain chain and in the Sierra Nevada too, notably at Squaw Valley in California, which was hammered by a record-breaking 800cm of snow in February. Even the usually fickle east coast resorts have had a good year, thanks to the polar vortex conditions that paralysed much of the Midwest in late January and early February.

Tideline Feathers by Angie Lewin

From Picasso to Jarman: new book lifts the lid on the endless appeal of pebbles

What is it about pebbles that some people find so fascinating? For the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, their appeal seemed to lie in their connection to the infinite, or, at least, the as-good-as-infinite vastness of geological time: “We must be humble,” he wrote in his famous long poem “On a Raised Beach”. “We are so easily baffled by appearances / And do not realise that these stones are one with the stars.”

A still from Ode to Muir PIC: Teton Gravity Research

Ode to Muir: US snowboard legend Jeremy Jones tips his hat to Dunbar’s lad o’pairts

It took me a while, but this week I finally got round to watching Ode to Muir, the latest film from big mountain snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones, released last autumn. As the title suggests, the project is inspired by the writings of John Muir, the lad o’ pairts from Dunbar who, after his family emigrated to the USA in 1849, first fell in love with the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada and then devoted his life to trying to protect it. Footage of heart-in-mouth snowboard descents interspersed with some of Muir’s most memorable quotes – what’s not to like?

The �26 million funicular railway at the CairnGorm Mountain ski centre is currently out of action. Work is required to strengthen the foundations.

Should the troubled CairnGorm Mountain ski area be allowed to return to nature?

There are quotes that don’t age well, and then there are quotes that sounded a bit iffy to begin with and which a few years later, with the benefit of hindsight, come to seem downright delusional. Back in 2014, shortly after the luxury self-catering company Natural Retreats took over the running of the CairnGorm Mountain ski area near Aviemore, they put out a spectacularly ambitious-sounding press release. In it, the company’s CEO, Matthew Spence, claimed that they were going to build “the best terrain park in the world” at CairnGorm, and that their long-term goal was for the resort to host the Winter X Games. Spence also promised not only to “nurture, develop and create future Olympians at CairnGorm” (which he could probably have got away with for a decade or two) but also assured the world that “these athletes will win gold medals at the Winter Olympics in 2018”.

"I guess the greatest days are where you're just getting to the limit of your comfort zone." PIC: Philip Ebert

Comfort Zones: new film offers a philosophical take on extreme skiing in Scotland

Your typical backcountry ski film usually contains a number of key ingredients. Firstly and most obviously, it must feature high-level, heart-in-mouth skiing: big, gut-wrenching drops must be landed; sketchy entries into steep, narrow couloirs must be stuck; and high-velocity turns must throw buckets of feather-light powder snow into pristine blue skies. Secondly, there should be an element of terrain porn: in addition to close-ups of the talent, there should also be a few pull-back shots showing the riders in question as tiny specks flying down vast, intimidating sections of mountainside. There should be atmospheric musical accompaniment for the action sequences, of course, perhaps a bit of chat from the stars, and last but by no means least, there must always, always be a crash reel at the end. As the old saying goes, if you’re not falling you’re not trying, and nothing puts all those perfect descents into perspective quite like seeing a few proper, full-on wipe-outs – ideally of the kind that North Americans describe as a “yard sale” as skis, poles and sundry other bits of kit are sent flying all over the mountainside.

Katie Small, on her way to winning the Lawers of Gravity freeride contest in 2016.

“The atmosphere’s brilliant” - freeride ski champ Katie Small on the appeal of the Scottish Freedom Series

By my count the Scottish Freedom Series turns five this year, so on Saturday, as the nation’s best backcountry skiers and snowboarders prepare to take turns launching themselves down a gnarly slab of unpisted mountainside somewhere on the north shore of Loch Tay for the 2019 Lawers of Gravity event, they will also be preparing to launch the fifth season of the SFS. True, Scotland’s first ever freeride ski and board contest, the Coe Cup, was held on Glencoe’s fearsome Flypaper way back in 2012, so you could argue that the SFS was really born then. However, the first time there was a proper series with multiple events was 2014, when there were contests at CairnGorm, Nevis Range and Glenshee as well as Glencoe. The series also ran in 2015 and 2016, it took a year off in 2017, when the Canadians stole all our snow, but it was back with a vengeance in 2018, as the Beast From the East dished up stellar conditions for the tail-end of the season.

Dr Adam Watson in 2012 near his home in Crathes, Abderdeenshire. PIC: Robert Perry for The Scotsman

Scotland is poorer for the passing of Dr Adam Watson, but his wonderful writing lives on

Scotland’s mountain-going community was united in sadness at the end of last month, following the death of the great ecologist and mountaineer Dr Adam Watson, who passed away after a short illness at the age of 89. The writer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish described him as “a giant in wildlife and landscape conservation” and a spokesman for RSPB Scotland hailed him as “arguably the most knowledgeable Scottish naturalist and ornithologist of the last century.” His friend and fellow snow patch researcher Iain Cameron said he was “an irreplaceable man to his family, and to Scottish science.”

The interior of the new Lumen Mountain Photography Gallery in Kronplatz, Italy

Why Scotland should celebrate high culture with a museum of the mountains

This winter, visitors to the Italian ski resort of Kronplatz will be able to enjoy a little extra culture between runs courtesy of Lumen, South Tyrol’s new museum of mountain photography, which has just opened in a stylishly repurposed cable-car building at an altitude of 2,275 metres. Designed by local architect Gerhard Mahlknecht, the four-storey exhibition space will display vintage shots by pioneering lensmen including Joseph Tairraz of France, Jules Beck of Switzerland and Vittorio Sella of Italy, as well as work by contemporary photographers.

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