Why a bumper ski season in the Alps could be good news for Scottish resorts

Following the premature end to the 2019/20 ski season and the washout of 2020/21, this year should finally see the ski industry start to recover, both at home and abroad, writes Roger Cox

Family skiing at The Lecht ski centre in the Cairngorms PIC: Stevie McKenna / Ski-Scotland

Planning a ski trip to the Alps for February week? If you haven’t already booked your plane tickets, you’d better hurry up. It might not be departing for another six months yet, but at time of writing the 16:55 EasyJet flight from Edinburgh to Geneva on the first Saturday of the Edinburgh school holidays is already filling up fast, with just four seats left, and there are just four seats left on the 09:55 return flight a week later.

Fancy Austria instead? OK then, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, there are still seats available on a Jet2 flight from Edinburgh to Salzburg leaving on the 12th, and on a return flight on the 19th; the bad news is, for a family of four that’ll be £1,986, thanks very much, assuming you don’t want to bring any skis or, indeed, any check-in luggage whatsoever. You might want to consider renting skis when you get there and wearing your salopettes, ski jacket, helmet and goggles on the plane.

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The point of this is absolutely not to take a cheap shot at the airline industry, which has been brought to its knees by the pandemic and is now under even more pressure than ever to mine every last penny out of flights departing at peak times. The point is to illustrate that, after a disrupted ski season in 2019/20 and a season where skiing overseas was nigh-on impossible in 2020/21, there now appears to be a considerable amount of pent-up demand.

Specialist ski holiday providers are also optimistic. According to a recent story from In The Snow magazine, reservations for the 21/22 season are "well above normal." At ski specialists NUCO, for example, by late July bookings were up 44 per cent on the same time in 2019. True, it’s hard to know how many of the reservations quoted are new sales and how many are cancelled bookings held over from last year, but still, the mood music is positive.

Like flights to and from ski destinations, ski accommodation is a finite resource, and as flights and hotel rooms continue to fill up – whether due to old or new bookings – the scarcity of what remains will inevitably push prices in a northerly direction. All of which brings us to Scotland, and the implications of a bumper ski season for the Highlands’ five ski centres: Cairngorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, the Lecht and Nevis Range.

You might think that what looks like an impending stampede to the Alps would be bad news for skiing at home, but in fact the opposite could turn out to be true. The more people find that they either can’t get flights or accommodation when they need it, or can’t justify the cost of what’s still available by the time they get around to booking, the more likely they are to take a serious look at the options on their doorstep.

For many skiers in Scotland, a ski trip to the Alps will typically last for a week or more, with as much skiing packed into each day as possible, whereas ski trips at home can often be more speculative, and perhaps only last for a single day or a long weekend when the forecast looks good. Remove the possibility of a snow-sure continental ski trip, however, and the equation changes. If you’ve left it too late to book a trip to the Alps (or if you’d rather not risk all the Covid-related uncertainty that will likely entail) why not book a week-long stay within striking distance of one of Scotland’s five ski hills? If there’s enough snow and the weather plays ball you’ll still get a great ski holiday, and if not, well, you’ll still find plenty to do and you’ll have saved yourself a fortune. If there’s one aspect of the Scottish weather that could be said to be 100 per cent predictable, it’s its unpredictability, so chances are if you set up camp next to a Scottish ski resort for a week, you should get decent conditions for at least some of the time, and you’ll be well-placed to pounce when the skies suddenly clear.

The more people start to think of Scottish skiing in these terms, the more Scotland’s wider ski economy will benefit: not just hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation providers, but also shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants... exactly the kinds of places that tend to get overlooked by skiers on a mad, one-day dash from the Central Belt to the hills and back.

For all of this to come to pass, however, Scotland’s ski centres need to be able to send a clear message to potential customers that they are alive and well and ready for business. Obviously the recently-announced delay to the repairs to the Cairngorm funicular won’t exactly have helped in this regard, but there’s a lot more to skiing in Scotland than a single mountain railway. If the Scottish ski industry is able to market itself effectively to snow-starved skiers between now and Christmas, it could still be in for a surprisingly strong season.

*Note: The print version of this story appearing in The Scotsman Magazine of 28 August went to press before the delay to the repairs to the funicular at Cairngorm Mountain had been announced. As a result it incorrectly refers to the possibility of the funicular being operational in time for the new ski season. We would like to apologise in advance for any confusion this may cause.

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