With the temperature creeping above zero, the last of the snow melting and waves of drizzle wafting in from the North Sea, it looks as if the 2017/18 ski season is finally over at Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat ski resort. By the standards of this low-lying, modestly-sized ski area, however, it has been a landmark year, so let’s take this opportunity to look back at some of the highs and lows.
Statistically speaking, the 17/18 season has been the longest for some time, with its total of four skiable days comparing favourably with zero days in 16/17, zero days in 15/16, zero days in 14/15 and, indeed, zero days in every season since the epic winter of 2010/11, when it was possible to ski the Seat for a whole week. Before the arrival of the so-called Beast from the East weather system on Wednesday 28 February, some long-time Edinburgh skiers had hoped that the current season might have surpassed even that legendary year, but sadly it wasn’t to be: after a couple of days of heavy snow and high winds, followed by a couple of days of calmer conditions and light snow showers, the mercury rose, the pistes un-froze and everything turned to mud. Still, the lucky few who were able to overcome challenging travel conditions and get themselves to this little-known resort were greeted with world-class conditions, albeit briefly.
On the morning of Thursday 1 March, runs facing into the prevailing wind were scoured almost bare but north and west facing slopes were loaded with champagne powder. The almost total meltdown of the transport system in the Central Belt meant that crowds were light, so those who made it up the hill on opening day were able to enjoy fresh tracks until their knees gave out. Thursday morning also saw two (finless) surfboard descents of the East Bowl – the first time this has ever been done, according to a spokesperson for the resort.
On Friday 2 March Storm Emma was really making her presence felt, and the snow on some of the more challenging runs near the top of the Seat had started to resemble sand, due to the amount of red-coloured dirt that was being stripped off exposed slopes and transported in a north-westerly direction by the wind. Conditions on lee slopes were even better than on the previous day, however, thanks to further snowfall and snow blowing in from elsewhere, so those who braved the gusty hike in were rewarded with the best conditions of the season (even if the snow was a little beige). Staff at the base station reported selling out of powder snorkels well before midday.
By Saturday morning, the steeper terrain of the Seat was mostly tracked out, but leisurely piste skiing was still on offer at nearby Blackford Mountain, with the resort’s sheltered signature run, Gorse Glades, offering packed powder on a firm base and spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle. (Although Blackford isn’t technically part of the Arthur’s Seat ski area, rumour has it that there are plans to install a peak to peak gondola linking the two resorts, similar to the one that now runs between Whistler and Blackcomb resorts in British Columbia. However, such a system would almost certainly face stiff opposition from local conservation groups, not least the Grange Association.)
If there was one big disappointment this season, it was the fact that the black runs in the Salisbury Steeps area of the Arthur’s Seat resort never got quite enough snow to make them skiable. Having enjoyed many happy hours in this zone during the winter of 2010/11, your correspondent decided to give one of his favourite lines a go anyway, just for old time’s sake, but almost immediately wished he hadn’t. With more shrubs than snow, these slopes needed at least another six inches of cover before they could have been opened to the public, and even then the risk of hitting buried obstacles would have remained high.
The question Edinburgh’s skiers are now asking is: when will we get another season like this one? Based on recent history, with skiable conditions coming along approximately once every seven years, the Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Mountain resorts should be open again in the 2024/25 season, or thereabouts. If the experts who believe global warming is likely to make freak weather events like the Beast from the East more likely are correct, they could open sooner; if those who believe global warming will soon make Scotland a snow-free zone are right, they might never open again. Either way, it’s probably worth keeping a pair of skis or a snowboard stashed in Edinburgh, just in case.
**Warning: story may contain traces of fake news**