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Half-term in the Highlands
Friday February 21, 2014 - Email this article to a friend

Scotland currently has some record-breaking conditions. With fresh snow, cheap prices and a simple journey PlanetSKI reporter, Rob Stewart, headed to Scotland this week for his family ski holiday.

With the growth of cheap flights and package holiday deals, we seem to have forgotten about our own home-grown ski resorts in the Scottish Highlands.

Alpine they might not be with snow and weather not as stable as elsewhere, but 2014 has seen record amounts of snow in some of the five Scottish ski areas.

It's half term week - there are no special deals in the Alps and family skiing can be expensive. However, Scotland is not just a viable option, it's an excellent way to have a flexible holiday that combines skiing with a city break.

Two nights in Edinburgh allowed a visit to the Museum of Scotland with its full size replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, worth it just for that and a fantastic selection of restaurants you would expect in any capital city.

The drive from Edinburgh to the ski slopes of Glenshee takes two hours and this is where a holiday with your own car comes into its own. You can take as much gear as you like.

The roads up to the ski area are good, it's not a steep ascent like you might get in the Alps, but conditions are normally wintery.

Our Audi A6 Quattro was ideal, but a four wheel drive is not essential - more importantly though, winter tyres are highly recommended and make a huge difference.

Especially given the huge levels of snow in Scotland at the moment as PlanetSKI has reported in this earlier article.

It's usually busy at Glenshee during half term week, so try to get there early.

We didn't but we still managed to park, get our tickets and ski hire without too much fuss.

The area straddles the main road between Blairgowrie and Braemar in what is the closest we get to 'Lord of the Rings' territory in Great Britain.

Glenshee is the largest of the five ski resorts in Scotland and with the fantastic snow cover currently being enjoyed here, it was possible to ski almost everywhere.

It's the largest ski area in Scotland with 22 lifts and 40 Kilometres of runs with over 70% of them blue and red graded.

Glenshee, ScotlandGlenshee, Scotland













There are two cafes on the mountain as well as by the car park and food is decent, especially at the Cairnwell Café which was pumping out a mean pork curry.

The slopes were amazingly quiet considering this was one of the busiest weeks in Glenshee for years.

The visibility was tricky at times, but with a lack of wind, when the sun did break through it opened up some stunning scenery down to the Dee Valley and the Balmoral Castle area.

"There's enough snow to last right through to the end of March,", said Stewart Davidson, whose official title is Finance Director, but clearly has responsibilities way beyond sitting at his desk.

"Right now, the top pylon of the Tiger Chairlift is completely buried in snow and remains shut, waiting to be dug out."

I spoke to Harriet in the ski patrol office, who is a final year medical student at Oxford and spends the holidays helping out at Glenshee.

"This Sunday was our busiest day and the car park gates were closed as we reached capacity," she said. "They have good facilities on site in case of any mishaps and a large team of ski patrollers who are all qualified to do their jobs."

Our accommodation was down in Ballater at the Hilton Craigendarroch Suites.

It is an amazing place to come to and relax after a day on the slopes and it is about a twenty five minute drive from both Glenshee and The Lecht ski areas.

It's all self-contained here, with health club facilities including a swimming pool complex, squash court and spa.

Rooms consist of suites that sleep between two and six people and a recent £4.1 million refurbishment has brought exceptionally high standards to the accommodation.

The concept works like a timeshare where members buy ownership of a suite or one of the 99 lodges in the wooded grounds. You can also book suites like you would a normal hotel.

There's a brasserie restaurant and a bar serving a separate menu. Both are very good and provide excellent value in a location where you might expect inflated prices.

We had a family meal in the bar for three people that came in under £30 including drinks.

We headed up to Lecht 2090 on our second day.

The Lecht, ScotlandThe Lecht, Scotland













The Lecht, ScotlandThe Lecht, Scotland













The Lecht opened in 1977 as a family club field and grew from there. It still has a very personal feel and founders Pieter du Pon, an ex Navy Helicopter Pilot and former British Ski Team member and James McIntosh run the resort on a full time basis.

They employ around 35 people, mainly locals, through the winter.

It's a perfect place for families and after parking the car right next to the large base station complex, we organised our ski hire and got ready for skiing within around twenty minutes.

Our daughter, four year old Amelie, had a ski lesson with Duncan.

The ski school here has BASI qualified instructors and a good sized nursery area with a 'magic carpet' and two rope lifts.

This makes it easy for youngsters to head up to the top of the gentle run, and as we headed up the chairlift we could see our daughter skiing from top to bottom.

She came on fantastically well in the two hours with Duncan and spent the next hour drinking hot chocolate and eating hot food from the café in the base station complex, and this is the moment when skiing in Scotland makes sense for young families.

Our four year old managed two hours of skiing a day maximum.

It then left us time to do other things in the area, or to have a swim at the hotel.

The slopes at The Lecht or Glenshee are more than adequate for what she needs and the instruction is guaranteed to be in English, with perhaps a Scottish twist.

Our third and last day saw a return to Glenshee and a lesson with Fresh Tracks Ski School.

Starting out on skisStarting out on skis














The adventure beginsThe adventure begins














Instructor Lucy works winters in Scotland and heads to New Zealand in our summer, but might head off somewhere more exotic in the future.

Scottish ski resorts can be a great nursery ground for British ski instructors who want to go through the first part of the system and qualify to teach.

By the end of the lesson Amelie had cracked turning and afterwards managed to ski a green run unaided most of the way down - amazing progress considering the amount of time spent on skis.

We think it was helped by Lucy's creative approach to her lesson which involved throwing dinosaur eggs at each other and 'roaring' at all the other skiers on the slopes. Distraction works every time.

Although our journey home was quite long, the trip has left a lasting impression on all of us, 'it's the most beautiful country I've ever seen in my whole life', said Amelie and although she's only been to France, Switzerland and Austria in her first four years, she'd be hard pushed to beat the scenery anywhere else in the world.

Fact Box

See here for information about Glenshee and there are details about The Lecht in this link.

For options and prices with the Fresh Tracks ski school then see here.

Details about the hotel, the Hilton Craigendarroch Suites, can be found here and lets not forget Audi who provided an excellent vehicle for the trip.

And if you want to find out information about all the ski areas in Scotland then see this web site.

For the spirit of the mountains

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