Last winter, due to the historic lack of snow in Scotland’s hills, the competitive snowsports calendar was left with more holes in it than a Swiss cheese in a Wild West shoot-out. The organisers of the SkiMo Scotland ski mountaineering races were forced to cancel events at the Lecht in December, Glenshee in January and Glencoe in February, and it wasn’t until March that they were finally able to run the first (and last) races of the season at Nevis Range. The backcountry skiers and snowboarders of the Scottish Freedom Series also failed to see much action: the contests scheduled for Nevis Range and the Ben Lawers Range both had to be cancelled and, had the Coe Cup in March not gone ahead in somewhat marginal conditions, the series would have suffered the second total wipeout in its six year history.
This season hasn’t got off the a great start either. The first SkiMo event of the season at the Lecht had to be cancelled at the end of last month due to a lack of snow, but at least now the mountains are looking white again. Will there be snow for the other planned SkiMo races at Glenshee (25 January), Glencoe (23 and 23 February) and Nevis Range (21 and 22 March)? Fingers crossed.
This year’s Scottish Freedom Series, meanwhile, is scheduled to kick off on 8 February with the Lawers of Gravity, which can be held anywhere in the Ben Lawers Range on the north shore of Loch Tay, depending on where the show is best. In contrast to the SkiMo events, which see competitors racing up and down a set course, the Freedom Series contests allow skiers and boarders to ride anywhere they like on a given section of mountainside. There are no prizes for being the fastest down; instead, points are awarded based on the complexity of the line chosen and the style and skill with which obstacles are negotiated.
In 2015, 2016 and 2018, the Lawers of Gravity was held on the slopes of Meall nan Tarmachan, which offer a huge variety of terrain, but could this be the year it moves to a different location? Technically it’s a mobile contest, so Ben Lawers, Beinn Ghlas and Meall Corranaich are all potential venues, and all of them offer some spectacular descents.
The Freedom Series is short but sweet again this year, with just two more events after the Lawers of Gravity: the Corrie Challenge, held in the Back Corries at Nevis Range on 29 February, and the Coe Cup, held on and around the Flypaper at Glencoe on 21 March. The highest ranked skiers and boarders after these three events will then go through to the SFS Final on 22 March, held in the craggy arena of Clach Leathad, just to the south of the Glencoe ski area, and if the conditions are right this could turn out to be the most dramatic contest of them all.
Other snow-sliding events to look out for this year include the Glencoe Mountain Rail Jam, scheduled to be held at Glencoe on 25 January, which should see the terrain park in decent nick thanks to the resort’s new(ish) Snowfactory snowmaking machine, and the Upbattle at Cairngorm, which, despite its title, is actually a very friendly get-together for lovers of split-snowboarding, and a great place for beginners to try out the latest gear. Sometime in April, date still tbc, there are also plans to hold a banked slalom event at Glencoe. For the uninitiated, this involves skiers and boarders racing down an undulating course of berms and kickers like so many bars of soap skooshing around a washbasin, so it should be almost as much fun for spectators as for participants.
And if this all sounds a bit too much like hard work, there’s also plenty for armchair skiers and boarders to look forward to. On 15 and 16 February, the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival returns to George Square with its winning mix of inspiring guest speakers and big screen adventures, while from 19-23 February the Fort William Mountain Festival offers more of the same, only with added workshops. If you have a decent snow dance in your repertoire, now would be a good time to start doing it.