The best British ski areas are all found in Scotland, with five resorts in the Highlands. In this guide to skiing in Scotland we will run through these ski areas and their quirky characteristics.
Best British ski areas
There is skiing available throughout Britain, however the vast majority is on dry ski slopes or indoor snow centres. These are great for beginners and there is sure to be one within a short drive of your home. They are usually very small, but can also be good to learn freestyle skills or perfect technique. Find your closest ski area here.
There are also a handful of outdoor slopes in England that rely on natural snow. The largest of which are the Lake District Ski Club and Carlisle Ski Club which both have around 4 km of slopes. There are also lifts with skiing available in the North East at Allenheads and Weardale both having around 1 km of runs.
But none of the above really count as ski resorts meaning the best British ski areas are all Scottish. But don’t head north trying to replicate your ski trip in the Alps as it is a very different experience. But the Scottish ski scene has its own distinct appeal, and rightly so.
Most ski areas consist of a base station, lift network and mountain café. While accommodation, bars and restaurants tend to be a short drive away to the nearest village or town. Unreliable snow is Scotland’s biggest barrier to gaining serious ski-status. But time it right and you could be in for a real treat.
Although there are public transport options it is best to have your own wheels to explore the Scottish ski scene. And although the roads are often cleared, if you want easier and safer access it’s recommended you have a 4WD vehicle such as a Jeep.
Guide to skiing in Scotland
In no particular order, below are the five best British ski areas (and the only ski areas that really qualify!):
35 pistes and 12 lifts.
Scotland’s newest ski area sits next to Britain’s highest mountain. Ride up on the UK’s only quad chair and six-person gondola, taking in spectacular views over the West Coast. Ski at an altitude of 1190 metres on the slopes of Scotland’s eighth highest mountain, Aonach Mor.
Beginners can learn their turns on the gentle blues and greens by the Snowgoose restaurant – where you can fuel up with hot-choc and whisky when your toes go numb. Skiers and boarders who already know their tail from their tip, and their side-cut from their stomp pad can explore the extensive network of reds and blacks, or head to the terrain park.
Backcountry fans will find some of Scotland’s best off-piste and ski-touring terrain here. The Back Corries is known as one of the most challenging areas in Scotland.
Apres scene: The bars and restaurants of Fort William are five miles down the road.
20 pistes and 8 lifts
A pioneer of the Scottish ski scene, Scotland’s first ski centre opened here in 1956. Relatively recently it was redeveloped as Glencoe Mountain Resort. Visitors can now expect year-round camping facilities hot showers and a café serving hot meals, all at the base of the mountain.
There’s also a piste-side café at higher altitude, where you can grab a hot drink or a can of Irn Bru. Set in one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens, the ski area sits among 200 hectares of stunning scenery, in the ‘Meall a’ Bhuiridh Massif’ basin.
Glencoe holds its snow particularly well and, in some years, you can still ski here in May. Two hours’ drive from Glasgow airport, it’s easy to get to for a weekend.
There’s a good range of slopes to choose from and the rugged nature of this area makes it popular with intermediates and experienced skiers.
Apres scene: Refuel at the base station café, or hop in the car and drive five minutes to Glencoe’s most famous mountain meeting place, The Clachaig Inn. Expect as much haggis, whiskey and live music as you can handle.
Scotland’s biggest ski resort, and for many top of the list of the best British ski areas, spans more than 800 hectares with 40 km of runs across four mountains. When people started to ski Scotland back in the 1930s, the Scots used tractors to ferry skiers up the slopes. Things have advanced somewhat since then, with 21 lifts and tows crisscrossing the ski area.
It’s a popular resort with snowboarders, freestylers and freeriders and has a modern, buzzy feel. As skiing in Scotland goes it is slightly more comparable to Alpine resorts than the other ski areas.
There is plenty of varied terrain with natural quarter pipes and other fun features. Plus there is a terrain park, complete with boxes, rails, kickers and jumps. Although the location and features depend on the conditions. Read our guide to Glenshee for more information.
Apres scene: A lively cafe serves hot drinks and food. Visit one of the nearby hotel bars for fodder by the fire.
23 pistes and 11 lifts (figures unknown for 2018/19 season)
Lying just off the A9 between Perth and Inverness, Cairngorm is one of Scotland’s most accessible resorts. This also makes it one of the busiest. Fret not, they’ve got lift queues covered with a funicular railway, which rockets skiers and boarders uphill by the train-load.
But as of November 2018 the Funicular is out of action and it is unclear when (or if) it will be fixed or how much of the ski area will be open in the 18/19 season. But they have invested £1 million in snow making for the lower slopes and there is talk of £26 million of further investment. So perhaps it’s potential will soon be realised?
Usually the funicular does a good job of tackling the wind issue, which plagues skiing in Scotland. At Cairngorm you’ll also find Scotland’s highest restaurant, shop, mountain exhibition and viewing terrace. It makes a great option for non-skiers who don’t want to miss out on the gorgeous views.
There are usually 30 km of pistes, the longest of which is 3.3 kms. There’s a choice of seven greens and six blues to help beginners find their feet. The terrain park, eight red slopes and one black provide plenty of challenge for more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Apres scene: Ten miles west, the lively village of Aviemore has plenty of good spots for post-piste pints.
20 pistes and 14 lifts.
The smallest resort on this list of the best British ski areas but with some of the most consistent snow. Being the furthest inland, it also escapes the wind associated with skiing in Scotland.
You’ll find it in the eastern Cairngorms, at 637m above sea level, with access via the A939 – one of the most scenic roads in Scotland. Snowboarder friendly, it was one of the first Scottish resorts to offer snowboard instruction, and has hosted numerous comps over the years.
Beginners can build up confidence on the easy-peasy greens near the car park. Three is a magic carpet to avoid the faff of chairlifts. More experienced skiers can glide down a choice of seven blues and five reds, or time themselves on the computerised slalom course.
Depending on conditions there is a fun park which boasts table tops, log slides and gap jumps. There is also a full-length half-pipe cut into the slope, however it is rather rare that the conditions are correct to have the halfpipe fully operational.
Apres scene: Grab a bite at the base lodge or head to the nearest hotel in Corgarff.
Best British ski areas: Practicalities
When skiing in Scotland equipment can be hired at all these resorts. A one day ski pass will set you back £20 to £37. There are also lessons available at the resorts and special details combining tuition, equipment and lift passes.
The secret to snowboarding or skiing in Scotland is to keep your eye on the conditions and to head there when they’ll be good. Unfortunately the variability of the weather makes booking a ski holiday in Scotland, or even planning a short break in advance, not very practical.
But when the conditions are good there is something for everyone from beginner to expert, freestyler to freerider and skier to snowboarder. It may not rival the Alps for size and conditions, but skiing and snowboarding in Scotland has a dedicated following, a unique vibe and plenty to offer those that visit.
We hope you found this guide to skiing in Scotland useful. So now you know the Best British ski areas keep an eye on the conditions and plan a visit! When booking ski holidays be sure to check out skiing discounts as you could save a packet.