Cairngorm ski area has a bed base spread right throughout the Spey Valley. The main ski area is situated a nine mile drive from the main resort centre of Aviemore, but there is accommodation available at the foot of the main access road at Glenmore. Not for nothing is there a good range of diverse activities available – indoors and out – across the valley. As is frequently noted, the Scottish ski and boarding experience is not always on skis or snow, and local alternative pursuits and interests are required substitutes when the weather turns for the worse. That said midweek in late February or mid March when the runs are quiet and the consolidated base is topped with a fresh fall of snow, and the full area is available a day on Cairngorm – or the other bigger Scottish centres – is a matchfor any European resorts. What it lacks is consistent weather. Most of the big snow dumps of the season arrive in strong winds which often blow away as much of the existing snow as actually yield a net gain. Temperatures do tend to vary greatly, particularly with the arrival of the prevailing wet Westerly airstream. The main resort base is Aviemore which is rightly criticised for being dull and dated, and badly in need of major investment particularly for the 30 year old Aviemore Centre, but developments towards either end of the village have brought more accommodation and some relatively appealing housing. There is enough to do locally in the town to merit staying there, but it is a pretty soulless destination which lacks any discernible ambience – unless there is a foot of snow in the village. The towns and villages through Badenoch and Strathspey do not offer the same level of amenity, but many retain a more distinctly traditional highland feel. Nethybridge, Kincraig and Carrbridge are popular and retain more of a village atmosphere. Despite the fact that the Aviemore Centre has seen the closure of both the swimming pool and the ice rink over recent, there is still plenty to do by day and night.Throughout the valley there is everything from guided winter walks and wildlife rambles to mountain biking, pony trekking, 4×4 driving, clay pigeon shooting, ice climbing, nordic skiing, and in spring canoeing and dinghy sailing. Walking and mountain biking through the trails on the Rothiemurchus Estate, Inshriach and Glenmore forests can be perfect compensation for losing a day on the slopes. Accommodation styles and prices are available to suit most tastes and budgets. From youth hostels to country hotels, guest houses and homely bed and breakfasts, there is also a plentiful supply of self catering cottages, lodges and chalets.
|Opens||Dec – April|
The ski area does offer a little bit of everything for all standards, and has the twin benefits of both high, snowsure beginners areas as well as accessible nursery slopes adjacent to the Day Lodge car park. The drawback presently is that these upper beginners runs are very weather dependent and high winds often curtail the operation of the access chairlift. Cairngorm’s long awaited funicular railway will take skiers to these upper runs in six minutes and is due to be completed soon. There are two base stations. The Coire na Ciste car park is two thirds of the way up the main access road and really is best suited to more experienced skiers who wish to access the upper runs directly. It is linked by two chairlifts, or a chair then Poma. The main Day Lodge base station offers car and coach parking, ski, snowboard and blade hire, ticket sales and a restaurant, bar and snack bar. The centre have made significant improvements in their customer care and now have a squad of friendly ambassadors who, as well as answering queries on the mountain, run free guided tours of the ski area each morning and afternoon. The layout to the lifts and runs means that there is a small network of gentler green runs off the Fiacaill Ridge, to the right looking up the mountain, which terminate at car park level. Total beginners usually start at car park level, or if the weather is fine up on the Ptarmigan area. Thereafter there is a short beginners lift below the Shieling mid station mid station, and the run down from this level is pretty benign. Intermediates will quickly master most of the mountain. There are easier descents from the top of most of the lifts, even higher up. The exception is the Coire na Ciste gully. The staple for intermediates is the snowsure Coire Cas. More advanced skiers and riders will appreciate the White Lady best when it is full width and strewn with moguls. Otherwise the stiffest challenge is the West Wall which is the only black run on the area which drops from the Coire na Ciste ridge into the Ciste gully. Spring off piste can be inspirational and challenging at Cairngorm, but is definitely best with a qualified local guide – at least until you know your bearings and the prevailing snow conditions. Beyond the East Wall across a long traverse is Coire Laogh Mor, while a trek round behind the Ciarngorm summit to beyond the Fiacaill headwall accesses the chutes and couloirs on Coire An Sneachda and beyond. Instruction to all levels in skiing and snowboarding can be booked from the centre’s Cairngorm Snowsports School and also locally through the valley, and children’s classes are often runs peak season and weekends when there is demand. There is a well maintained and popular snowboard and bladers funpark up by Fiacaill ridge which the centre aim to expand. Otherwise child care is available by arrangement.
|Accommodation & Apres Ski|
Apres ski tends to be what you make of it, but it is all there to be exploited or avoided. There is usually live music in several of the bars, varying from traditional Scottish folk duos to dodgy allround ‘entertainers’ pumping out second rate covers. Otherwise Mambo, Chevvy’s (R.I.P.) and Crofter’s (also R.I.P.) are usually at the epicentre of the evening’s drinking and carousing. Eating out is still variable. The Bridge Inn down by the river has a good reputation as does the local Littlejohn’s – one of a Scottish chain serving American style food. The Cairngorm Hotel bar, the Winking Owl and the Red Mcgregor are still very popular. Further afield the choice widens. Low season all inclusive family packages at the Stakis Coylumbridge Hotel can be good value. Sited right on the ski road it is fully self contained and has a swimming pool, childcare and a kids soft play area. Otherwise accommodation options for visitors with cars are plentiful. Groups will find excellent value to be had in self-catering houses and cottages close to a typical village pub. Those on a budget can avail themselves of the hostels in Aviemore or Glenmore – and use the regular ski bus to and from the slopes.