The UK is certainly not known for its ski resorts. You will certainly not open a winter holiday brochure and see images of happy skiers in feet of snow in the UK. However, there are a number of small ski areas in England and of course Scotland has the Cairngorm mountains and Aviemore and Glenshee to name a couple of Scottish ski areas.
There are four places in the north of England that have a permanent tow system in place and when there is snow, will open at the weekends. All are run by small ski clubs and volunteer groups and often involve a hike carrying all your equipment to get to a field with a rope on a motorised pulley system. You need to be keen to make the effort to go and ski at these places.
In the far south-east of Cumbria, around 10km away from the small town of Alston, there is Yad Moss ski area. This is the most sophisticated of all of Englands proper ski areas and a recent lottery grant meant that two piste bashers could be bought and a new cafe built at the edge of the one ski slope. It costs £15 a day to ski here.
There is also ‘Raise’ around an hours walk from Glenridding at Ulswater on Helvellyn, Cumbria’s highest peak. It now has a permanent drag lift, although not often sufficient snow to operate it. In order to ski there you need to be a member of the Lake District Ski Club which costs £23 for an adult annual membership and then there is a £7 daily fee to use the drag lift.
In Northumbria, at the village of Allenheads, 15km south of Hexham, there is a small ski slope operated by the British Norwegian Ski Club, which has two permanent drag lifts offering around 500 metres of skiing for an annual membership fee of £25. And at Swinhope Moor at St Johns Chapel in Weardale, County Durham, there are two two ropes and around a kilometre of skiing at a cost of £15 a day. Also in County Durham is Harwood Common which has two drag lifts and is only open at the weekends and during school holidays, presuming there is enough snow. The ski run is 500 metres long and will cost you £10 for the day.
However, most of these small English ski areas will be lucky to have enough snow to open more than 3 or 4 weekends a winter. There are now a number of indoor snow domes such as Tamworth and Xscape at Milton Keynes as well as Chill Factor at Manchester and several established dry plastic ski slopes such as Rossingdale and Kendal.
Scotland of course has proper ski resorts with the most famous being Aviemore and the Cairngorm ski area. Unfortunately bad weather and unreliable snow conditions often hamper a day’s skiing and it is more of a day trip or weekend outing than somewhere you would go for a week’s holiday. There is lots to occupy beginners and intermediates and more advanced skiers and boarders have the snow park and a few steeper runs, as well as off-piste bowls, snow and conditions allowing. There is a funicular railway and four ski lifts but it is also one of the most expensive ski areas in Scotland with day passes costing £29.
Glenshee is another popular Scottish ski resort but again is very weather dependent as to whether it will even be open or able to operate. It has around 25 miles of downhill ski runs covering 4 different mountains. A day pass to Glenshee is £25, pretty expensive compared to larger, more snow sure European resorts, given the limited number of runs.
The newest and highest Scottish ski resort is Fort William in the Nevis range. The town of the same name is just 15 minutes drive away and has hotels, bars and restaurants. While not an extensive ski area it is a good place for beginners and intermediates to hone their skills. There are a dozen lifts around 20km of pistes. There is also an artificial slope close by where ski lessons are held all year round.
The oldest ski area in Scotland is Glencoe which offers more advanced skiing on the steep sides of the Meall a’ Buiridh and a few good beginner runs and is much cheaper with a day pass starting at £15 for an adult.
Lecht is a small ski area mainly catering for beginners and intermediates although there is one black run to keep the better skiers happy. Again it makes for an expensive family day out at £25 for a day pass.
England and Scotland are never going to feature highly in winter ski brochures but if you just want to see what snow feels like under your skis or fancy a different weekend away then there are at least a few options to consider. And it all stands you in good stead for when you hit the “real” stuff in France, Italy, Austria or where-ever else you choose for your ski holiday.
Rachel Gawith used to live in Cumbria and was an active member of Kendal Ski Club. However she now owns her own airport transfer business in the French Alps running skiers from Geneva to Courchevel as well to other resorts in the Three Valleys ski area.
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