Scottish skiing better than Alps, Pyrénées

SCOTLAND’S ski resorts enjoyed a great winter with better conditions than the Alps and Pyrenees, but were ultimately denied a record-breaking season – by heavy snowfall.

The Vans Big Air snowboarding competition in CairnGorm in April. Picture: Contributed

There was deeper snow on Scottish pistes than in the world’s most renowned resorts, including the Rockies in America, but this caused operators a major headache.

Staff spent longer digging out chairlifts and tow huts than they did selling tickets and operating lifts, resulting in fewer operational days for most ski areas.

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Despite this, the five centres still reported a good season, with a total of 235,303 skier days.

This was worth around £23.7 million to the Scottish economy but, of this, only £4.7m was spent at the ski areas themselves.

The remaining £19m was spent in local businesses – such as accommodation providers, places to eat and drink, shops and filling stations.

The figure is down on the excellent 2012-13 season when there were 290,996 skier days, raising more than £29m for the Scottish economy. But the high winds and heavy snowfall prevented that being surpassed.

Heather Negus, chair of Ski-Scotland, said: “Back at the end of January there was deeper snow on most of Scotland’s upper pistes than there was in world-renowned resorts in the Alps, Pyrenees and even the Rockies.

“In fact, some pistes in the Highlands were twice as deep as those overseas – and the snow kept on coming and coming.”

She said that while no-one would ever complain there was too much snow, it did cause some problems with tows constantly buried by snowdrifts, and many areas closed to the public for lengthy periods.

However, she insisted that customers turned out in their thousands when the resorts were open, ensuring that the season was still a decent one.

She added: “With only 441 operational days across the five resorts last winter and spring, we had on average 534 skiers per day. Bearing in mind that some of the best ‘bluebird’ days were working days for most people, that is an excellent average.”

‘Skier day’ means one person who skis or snowboards on one day. Many are serial visitors and are counted each day they enjoy their snowsports.

Colin Kirkwood, marketing manager at Cairngorm Mountain, the busiest of the centres with 77,430 ski days, said: “It was undoubtedly a challenging season at Cairngorm, with a third more stormed-off days than average and winds of such persistence that we were unable to operate the funicular on 44 days during the season.

“But we still had one of our busiest single days ever when 3,382 skiers and boarders descended on us on 19 February.”

A spokeswoman for Nevis Range said: “We were delighted that our figures were up on last winter. We had more snow than we’d ever had before. It snowed for more than 60 consecutive days.

“We’ve now long forgotten about snow though, and are looking forward to the UCI mountain bike World Cup taking place at Nevis Range next weekend.”

Andy Meldrum, of Glencoe Mountain, said: “We are delighted with this season. Record-breaking snowfall led to one of the best and longest seasons we can remember.

“We opened on 26 December and only closed on the May bank holiday weekend – due to lack of skiers, not a lack of snow.”