Scottish ski centres include Aonach Mor, Cairngorms (Aviemore), Glencoe, Glenshee and Lecht. However, for most British skiers, skiing in Scotland is of little interest and isn’t a viable alternative to a skiing holiday in the Alps or North America. In comparison with the Alps, Scotland suffers from a lack of atmosphere, and skiing conditions early in the season are unpredictable, with storms and strong winds often causing lifts to be closed and badly affecting the state of the snow. The best time to ski in Scotland is generally late in the season, from March to May.
The British, however, have made up for their lack of snow (and mountains) with dry-slope skiing. There are 76 such centres in the UK (more than in any other country), catering for over 300,000 skiers a year. As well as being an excellent training ground for the ‘real thing’, dry-slope skiing has become a popular sport in its own right. Most centres have a ski racing team and dry-slope competitions are held regularly throughout the year. Learning to ski on a dry-slope can save you time and money when you arrive in a winter resort, and also helps experienced skiers find their ski-legs before arriving. A dry-slope consists of around 2,000m2 of ski-matting, usually with separate areas for beginners and advanced skiers. The maximum descent of ‘pistes’ is around 500m, although most are 200m to 300m. Poma or button ski tows (or even a chair lift) are usually provided and floodlights light up evening skiing in winter. Most centres are council-run or commercial ventures, although a few have been built by enthusiasts themselves.
You should use your own ski boots (they can also be hired) and wear old clothes, as the matting can damage expensive ski suits. Gloves are usually compulsory. Don’t use good skis, as they don’t take kindly to the artificial surface and make sure that the bindings of hired skis are adjusted to your weight and ability. Equipment hire is usually included in the hourly rate, which varies considerably. Many centres offer weekly and season tickets, which are usually good value for money. It’s best to ski at quiet times, as centres can get extremely crowded at weekends, particularly towards Christmas when everyone is keen to get in a bit of practice before heading off to the Alps. Tuition is provided at all levels for adults and children, although off-piste skiing is frowned upon! A three-hour course costs from around £45 to £65, depending on the centre.
Skiing can also be practised indoors on a new type of artificial snow, which genuinely feels like the real thing. There are three such centres offering this at the moment: the Snozone in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, close to London; the Snowdome in Tamworth, Staffordshire, in the Midlands; and Xscape in Castleford, Yorkshire. Remember that, in contrast to dry slopes, these places get really cold – the temperature is never more than -3 C and with the wind-chill factor when skiing it can feel like -15 C, so wrap up well. Prices are around £20-25 for an adult for one hour of recreational skiing after 8pm and £15-20 for a child. Skiers at a loose end in the summer might also like to try grass skiing, which is quite popular.
If you’re looking for a book about learning or improving your skiing, the Sunday Times book We Learned to Ski (Collins) is an excellent choice for all standards. A number of ski magazines are published in the UK. The Daily Mail International Ski Show is held at Earls Court in November, where all the latest equipment and clothing can be seen.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.