Skiing: After a slow start, the Scottish freeride season picks up pace with 'The Maverick' at Glencoe

Improved snow conditions allied to the determination of organisers and competitors enabled the first competition of the Scottish Freeride Series to go ahead, writes Roger Cox

Organising a conventional ski race can be difficult enough – all those pesky slalom poles to set up, all those crash barriers to install to protect the spectators from the racers and to protect the racers from themselves. Organising a freeride contest, however – an event in which skiers and snowboarders compete on an unpisted section of mountainside strewn with natural hazards – is almost the dictionary definition of a logistical nightmare. Even in the high-altitude, snow-sure locations favoured by the elite Freeride World Tour, events routinely have to be called off because conditions aren’t close enough to perfect. This January, for example, the FWT was forced to can the first two events of its season, the Baqueira Beret Pro in northern Spain and the Ordino Arcalís Pro in Andorra, not because there wasn’t any snow, but because there wasn’t quite enough snow for competitors to be able to launch themselves off enormous cliffs and land safely.

And if even carefully selected contest sites sitting at over 2,000m are not always in condition for freeriding, well, imagine what it’s like trying to organise freeride contests here in Scotland, where the highest peaks are barely over 1,000m, and where the weather conditions tend to be more attritional than pretty much anywhere else in the snowsports universe.

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In spite of these challenges, however, for the last decade Iain Ramsay-Clapham of Snowsport Scotland has been running Scotland’s annual freeride tour, the Scottish Freedom Series, and running it with a statistically improbable degree of success. Apart from 2017 and 2023, when there wasn’t enough snow to run events, and 2020 and 2021, when Covid struck, it has always been possible to declare winners of the ski and snowboard categories by the end of the season.

Right on cue, the sun starts to break through as the Maverick event gets under way at Glencoe PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain ResortRight on cue, the sun starts to break through as the Maverick event gets under way at Glencoe PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain Resort
Right on cue, the sun starts to break through as the Maverick event gets under way at Glencoe PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain Resort

That said, with the first two events of the 2024 series – the Glenshee GOAT and the Nevis Corrie Challenge – both cancelled due to lack of snow, things weren’t looking too promising this year, as winter rolled into spring.

But then, with conditions suddenly looking favourable for Glencoe, Ramsay-Clapham decided to stage an impromptu event, dubbed “The Maverick”, to be held on 2 March. A surprisingly large field of 49 competitors materialised at short notice, some fresh snow fell overnight, the sun shone during the day, and suddenly the 2024 SFS was up and running.

“What a joy,” says Ramsay-Clapham, “to get a bunch of people back together who hadn’t managed to get that opportunity for two years. It’s been two years since we ran the last Coe Cup, in March 2022, and here we are in March 2024 with our first event since.”

Even the day before the contest it was still far from certain that mother nature was going to play ball. “I’d driven up on the Friday night with a little bit of concern that we might have been facing a bulletproof surface,” says Ramsay-Clapham, “which is not what you want for a freeride comp, and we would have had to call it off. But we woke up on the Saturday morning and of course there was three inches of fresh snow in the car park, so I was looking at the sky going ‘thank you for that one.’ And not only did we have freshies in the morning, but at midday on the Saturday when we were due to start the judged runs, the bloody sun comes out – honestly, it couldn’t have been a better day.”

Snowboarder Gillian Finnerty PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain ResortSnowboarder Gillian Finnerty PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain Resort
Snowboarder Gillian Finnerty PIC: Andy Meldrum / Glencoe Mountain Resort

Harris Price and Francesca Lee won the men’s and women’s ski categories respectively, while Sam Price and Gillian Finnerty took the men’s and women’s snowboard titles. Finnerty’s name, in particular, was one Ramsay-Clapham was pleased to see back on the leaderboard. “She first competed in the Freedom Series back in 2016,” he says. “I remember her at the time going ‘this is my first freeride event’ and what’s so nice is that here she is, six years later, having been through a leg broken in five places and the risk of it having to be amputated, riding again at Glencoe.”

As well as experienced skiers and boarders, there were also a surprising number of first-timers at the Maverick event. “Almost half the field were completely new to freeride,” says Ramsay-Clapham. “In the briefing I said ’OK, hands up all those for whom this is their first freeride competition’. I was expecting maybe four or five, but no – about half put their hands up. So I said ‘Right, OK, you lot who know what you’re doing, just look after these guys.’ It was really nice, that coming together of old and new, really good for the community.”

The final event of this year’s Freedom Series will be the Coe Cup at Glencoe – Scotland’s original freeride contest, having first been staged in 2012 – which is scheduled to take place on the weekend of 23 and 24 March. It hasn’t been a stellar year for snow at Scotland’s ski centres, but Ramsay-Clapham thinks Glencoe can deliver once again. “Conditions at Glencoe aren’t brilliant, he says, “in that the lower and middle mountain don’t have all that much to offer, but the upper mountain is really not that bad, and the Spring Run and Flypaper, as they do, have been holding their snow for a good long time.” A bit more white stuff in the next few days, then, and the 2024 Freedom Series could well get its grand finale.

For more on the Scottish Freedom Series, sponsored by Ellis Brigham, Fauna Skis, BCA and Teko, see

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