Hilly sets new record: 125 months skiing on Scottish snow

Inverness skier Helen Rennie’s remarkable run of skiing on Scottish snow at least once a month for over a decade has finally been brought to an end by coronavirus, writes Roger Cox

Helen Rennie, aka Hilly

Every year on 21 June, snow and weather conditions permitting, the folks at Glencoe Mountain ski area hold something called the Midsummer Slide. Often there isn’t much snow left to ski on the slopes of Meall a Bhuiridh by the time the longest day rolls around – sometimes the pistes have been reduced to little more than a couple of slushy snow patches – but this is an event that has less to do with serious skiing or snowboarding and more to do with goofing around in kilts or fancy dress and celebrating the little miracle of snow still lying in June.

Writing in this slot at the beginning of April, shortly after Scotland’s five ski centres had been forced to end their seasons early due to the coronavirus outbreak, and with the grim prospect of many months of lockdown ahead, I suggested that the 2020 Midsummer Slide was looking unlikely. Well, maybe I spoke too soon. In a post on the Glencoe Mountain Facebook page on 22 May, resort owner Andy Meldrum wrote “After Nicola [Sturgeon]’s announcement yesterday it looks like it’s going to be the 18th of June at the earliest before we can welcome you back to Glencoe Mountain Resort. Fingers crossed that might just allow the traditional Midsummer ski to take place.”

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Whether official government guidelines will allow a few people to get together for an informal, socially-distanced gathering on a Munro come 21 June remains to be seen, but judging by the webcams the Main Basin and the Spring Run both have good cover, so unless there’s a hairdryer thaw over the next couple of weeks there should still be plenty of white stuff left.

Of course, snow patches can persist in Scotland’s mountains all through the year, and as recorded in an interview in our 2019 Scottish Ski & Board magazine in Scotland on Sunday, one skier who has made a habit of taking advantage of this fact is Helen Rennie of Inverness, who in October last year managed to complete an incredible run of skiing on Scottish snow at least once a month, every month for a total of ten years. Sadly, however, lockdown prevented Hilly (as she’s known to skiers) from getting out in the hills in April, bringing her remarkable run to an end.

“I haven’t skied since March,” she told Final Words last week, “so the run has ended on ten years five months. It had to end sometime, and in a way this made it easier because I had no choice in the matter.“There are still snow patches in sheltered gullies on the hills around Slochd and Nairnside, but both would have meant a half-hour, non-essential car journey plus an off the beaten track hill walk, breaking both the government’s and mountain rescue’s lockdown instructions.”

As she explained in her interview in Scottish Ski & Board, however, Hilly’s prime motivation has always been her love of skiing, as opposed to her desire to set records.

“I’m not in the least upset or bothered,” she says, of her run finally coming to an end. “I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to keep it going for so long and I have wonderful memories of very happy and special days on snow. I’ve loved the challenge and constant weather watching throughout the summer and autumn to see if another month was going to be possible. However, it is a bit ironic that it has ended when there is plenty of snow around – and likely to be for months to come. I suspect that this September my usual easy to reach snow patch in Ciste Mhearad by Cairn Gorm will have snow.”

Speaking of September on Cairn Gorm, by the autumn it seems likely that a final decision on whether to repair the Cairngorm Mountain ski area’s funicular railway could be close, following two years of controversy. Last week, repairs to the railway, which links the Base Station at 635m and the Ptarmigan Restaurant at 1,097m, were given planning approval by the Cairngorms National Park Authority. A spokesman for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which runs the resort, said they hope to be ready to put recommendations to the Scottish government in the summer. The estimated repair cost of £10 million might seem a bit steep, particularly in a cash-strapped post-coronavirus world, but with household budgets under strain and Alpine holidays almost certainly off the menu for the time being, Scottish ski hills could find themselves very much in demand in the near future.

Even if the proposed repairs get the green light, it’s unlikely the funicular will be operational in time for this season. However, if this winter sees more UK skiers than usual choosing to ski at home, it represents a good opportunity to win new converts, in which case increasing lift capacity would seem to make sense.

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