Like icing on a scrumptious carrot cake, little flakes of snow have already started to dust the mountaintops in the Cairngorms National Park. High street shops are stocking up on down jackets, ski poles and snowboard boots and a mere mention or photo of snow on Aviemore and the Cairngorms Facebook page prompts hundreds of “likes” and gleeful comments of expectant joy! That’s right folks winter is on its way and with it a whole host of winter sports, exciting events and celebrations.

This month, What’s On turned up the heating, settled down with a mug of gluhwein and started to watch re-runs of Ski Sunday in preparation…. oh and we researched and wrote about some of the best things to do in the Cairngorms National Park during the winter months!

Snowholing and Winter Skills

The Cairngorms, protected from Gulf Stream warmth, are universally recognised as providing the most consistent snow and ice conditions. They’re Britain’s highest mountain range, Scotland’s high arctic and home to our most permanent snow beds. However, most of all we must remember that the conditions on these stunning mountains can change in a blink of an eye and that we have to have the upmost respect for them.  That’s where winter skills come in! The most important aspect of getting out into the hills, at anytime of year but especially winter, is to be experienced and to be prepared. With plenty of courses going on around the Park there is no excuse not to be prepared when facing the mountains and the environment.

In addition, we are so lucky to have loads of experienced guides and instructors who will take you on guided walks across these stunning landscapes and teach you how to build your very own evening accommodation – a snow-hole! Made from cutting into the snow rather than building the blocks of an igloo, a snow-hole can become quite a cosy way to spend the night, but you must know what you are doing before you start to build your very own snowy Sistine Chapel!

Skiing and Snowboarding

This winter marks an incredibly important milestone for two of our resorts – Cairngorm Mountain and Glenshee. Cairngorm is celebrating 50 years of mechanical uplift and Glenshee 50 years of being an official resort. Celebrations will include a retro ski patrol day, a photo competition resulting in a memory exhibition, and a ceilidh. Both mountains have seen hundreds of thousands of people ski and board down the pistes since the winter of 1961-1962 – including Olympic champions, families happy to occupy the host of slopes and the new generation of freestyle skiers and boarders.

With over 90km of pisted runs across the National Park and heaps of off-piste terrain to explore (we’ll come to that later!) there is something for every skier and snowboarder to enjoy.

Recent research into the history of mechanical uplift at Cairngorm Mountain led me to a fascinating piece published in The Scotsman newspaper on December 23rd 1962. The reporter wrote how the ski road (finished the winter before) put paid to the three and half mile trudge up the mountain from Glenmore Lodge and that the new Cairngorm chairlift would save legs even more. Although he concedes a “walk to stretch and warm up the legs from the car park to The White Lady Shieling, the new centre of the resort, would still have to be accomplished!”

Since then, the resort has gone on to much bigger and better things and Glenshee, to mark their 50-year anniversary, will be opening their brand new chairlift this winter. It seems that as long as we have snow, there will always be a passion for snow-sports in the UK’s largest National Park.

Ski Touring

If you would, however, prefer a quieter jaunt into the wilderness than that of the busier pistes then ski touring may well be the sport for you.

If you’re a parallel skier with a decent level of fitness, it is possible to ski the original way – and experience that blissful tranquility. However, it does involve skiing up a mountain…. The idea is that you attach special grippy skins to your skis in order to prevent yourself sliding backwards. When you eventually reach the top of your mountain, you take them off and ski down. There are many guides within the Park who will lead you on a journey over untracked, unpopulated off-piste routes that penetrate the mountainscape. Many people see it as skiing as nature intended – elevating, sustainable and a great calorie burner.

So this winter, why not check out the Visit Cairngorms website for a list of activity providers and experts that run snow-holing, mountaineering, ski touring, winter skills and ice climbing classes. In addition, why not try out Nordic skiing, snow-shoeing or ski joring this winter – the winter sports list in the Cairngorms National Park is endless!