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Scottish Skiing R.I.P.?

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
Scotland (and therefore the UK) only has 5 ski areas. Glenshee the biggest and Glencoe the oldest are now up for sale with uncertain futures. This is the equivalent to the entire US East Coast threatening to pack up. Worrying times.

They say they have lost £1m over the last 2 seasons and this year has been disappointing again, I can't see buyers fighting to get in. The snowfall has been erratic/bad and really Glenshee has been kept open by one run and a couple of cannons - only 2 of the resorts have any snowmaking at all.

Most Scottish areas are remote, 2+ hours from significant urban areas. The facilites are already minimal and the prospect of investment uncertain. Environmentalists almost scuppered Cairngorms new funicular and it's suspected many of the private owners would sooner have another 'clearance' and return the land to grouse and sheep if skiing isnt a money spinner anymore rather than diversify.

Skiing is marginal here. Mostly between 2000 and 3000 feet (Aonach mor reaches 4000) with a capricious maritime climate - storms close everything then it melts again! But every 5 years or so its bliss.

Are there any useful comparables in the States/Canada of marginal areas that have found ways of staying open? Maybe by year round diversification, by more snowmaking, by different opening timetables and staffing, volunteers, free whisky??

Isn't there another Dale Carnegie over there just longing to sink his funds into the peatbogs of the old country? We need you now!

any helpful ideas?
post #2 of 25
My old mountain (Mt. Ashland) in Oregon had financial problems from when it started in 1964 until it was purchased by the community and made into a non-profit operation. In the early 90s the last owner (Stevens Pass) decided to close the mountain and move its chairs to Stevens Pass where they would make them more money. Luckily, the local forest service office ruled that Steven's Pass would have to restore the area to its previous state if it removed the chairs. It is questionable whether that ruling would have held but it did give the local community some time.

A combination of local businesses, business civic groups and individuals rose enough money to buy the mountain. They formed a non-profit organization and granted deed to the property to one of the local cities thus limiting its liability and taxes.

Without any debt and with limited taxes and liability the ski area only had to earn enough money each year to cover its expenses. Any profits are invested in new equipment. After school ski programs and community ski school programs were invested in causing a growth in skier and boarders. The area is now suffering from being too popular and is trying to expand.
post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
thanks Rio,

That is an interesting story. I think I went to Billings once , isn't that near Custer's last stand?

I suspect the key investment decision will be snowmaking, there is almost none here and so when there is the slightest thaw, the uptracks for the tows are soon broken. Whether our climate would support it is a metereological question. What little snowmaking there is does work. That must be cheaper than putting in chairs. We might have problem with its very articficiality, wisiwig and kilts etc.

Does Ashland have any summer programmes? The land tenure is very feudal still here. Some of these guys really do not want people all over their land especially in the summer when they might actually be there themselves! The ski operators selling up are merely tenants.
post #4 of 25
Billings is close to where Custer met his fate. It is on the cusp of where Montana turns from mountains to rolling plains.

Mt. Ashland is on US Forest Service land. During the summer the area pretty much left alone except for hikers, teens driving dates up to look at the stars and some occasional new-age happenings.
post #5 of 25

Do you mean Andrew Carnegie? Dale Carnegie wrote a couple of self help books but I doubt was ever much of a benefactor to the land of Bens & Glens.

Here on the US East Coast ski areas with challenges you describe in Scotland are out of business now.
post #6 of 25
The mid-Atlantic US (Virginia, West Vir, Maryland, Penn.), where I live, has many of these same challenges. Still we have a vibrant, if short (2-3 mos) ski season. Our ski areas are closer to metro areas (1.5 to 5 hrs) which helps bring in many customers. Also, we probably have colder avg winter temps despite that most of the summits are only about 1000m with only 200-300meter vertical drops. Snowwise, our ski areas rely almost exclusively on manmade snowmaking. Natural snow is just an occasional bonus. A consistently cool winter like we had for 2002-2003 (one of our very best in decades) makes for much better snowmaking and skiing, than above average natural snowfall and inconsistent temps in between storms. Our areas have mastered the art of snowmaking and we are usually guaranteed at least basic trail coverage, if not optimum snow quality, for the months of Jan and Feb. Access to huge amounts of water is very important for the snowmaking. This is costly, hence our high priced lift tickets for such modestly sized ski areas. Financially, most of our ski areas work hard to increase income by offering year round attractions like golf, hiking, and boating/fishing on nearby lakes and rivers. The most successful areas are heavily involved in local real estate and sell vacation land/homes in areas near or adjacent to the skiing, golf and other recreational facilities. Many owners use their mountain vacation homes in the summer just to cool off and escape oppressive heat in nearby cities like DC, Baltimore, Richmond and Philly. Some of our ski areas are built on mountains that are government owned by the US Forest Service. Those areas typically have a less active real estate market and are often less financially strong as a result, but sometimes they have a nice undeveloped feel that attracts visitors who come just for skiing.
You need to find a Scot who owns a large, convenient mountain and who has lots of money and water to install enormous snowmaking capabilities and who will finance it by developing vacation homes all over his mountain and hire a team to sell them and hire a team of lawyers to hold environmentalists at bay. If that sounds totally out of the question, you can always take a quick flight to the Alps, which many of us in the mid-Atlantic think of as skiing Nirvanna.
post #7 of 25
What JamesJ said...

Just as a side note, to give a little insight. The ski area I work at, in the mid-atlantic region, was originally developed and opened during the 90-91 season, at a cost of $40M (US). It has since been sold twice. The current owners paid $11M for it about 3 years ago.

Q - You know how to make a million dollars in the ski industry?

A - Start with a billion

Yeah, it's all about the snowmaking. But even then, you need to have some cold temps to be able to keep all that expensive frozen water on the hill. Snow making revolves around "wet bulb" temperatures, which takes humidity into account. If it gets really humid, a distinct possibility in the far west of Europe (similar to Pacific NW in US), you need to be able to sustain some fairly cold temps. There can be days when it's snowing, but it's too humid to make snow, because you'd just make rain or ice.

However, if they can do it in the suburbs of LA, you should be able to do it over there (although the mountains surrounding LA help).
post #8 of 25
Thread Starter 
thanks clansmen

some food for thought. Despite the best efforts of the Scotch Whisky industry, we do still have water in abundance, even if less of the other prerequisites. Yes I meant Andrew Carnegie (steel magnate?). But Dale's book may be important in funding what may otherwise be a lame duck.

There is a reluctance to move withthe times here and address the realities of the leisure industry. People don't like artificial snow, they don't like metalwork on hillsides, they don't like services spoiling remote places; they just want to wake up after a dump and just go skiing the way God planned it. Quack quack.
post #9 of 25
Sadly oppressive heat is not something we Scots tend to face in the Summer, certainly not in Aberdeen or Fort William which are the nearest "urban areas", using that term very loosely to Glenshee/Glencoe.Selling land for holiday homes at either resort is not likely to be a runner, not least because the planning (zoning in the US I think) rules would likely not allow it anyway
post #10 of 25
If you've ever known any Scots who've come back from a ski trip to Vermont or elsewhere in New England and said they had a good time, then that means they like artificial snow. Because those areas rely on it very heavily too.
The lift and snowmaking infrastructure with pipes and towers, etc. can be very unsightly. So can the vacation/holiday home build-up. But we are blessed with so much acreage and sparsely developed wilderness in the US, even in the eastern US, that the way I figure it, we can develop a small number of mtns, and still keep vast reserves of land in a more pristine condition for future generations (to mess up?!).
I'm going to start a new thead on different cultural/national perceptions and expectations about skiing.
post #11 of 25
Thread Starter 

Caingorm is really the only one with any infrastructure, they sell over a 1000 season tickets(?) and when there is snow, they turn people away. Combine that with a ramped up snowmaking scheme and the success of the lecht's snowmaking could be greatly magnified.

We couldn't hope to dissuade those boarding the Manchester-Geneva flight, but there are surely enough already booted up and waiting. The other areas could be allowed to develop on the strengths of Scottish tourism, although current tenures may resist. Don't the MSPs now say they want immigration and economic stimulation?

They may have to deal with the midge.
post #12 of 25
Originally posted by daslider:
Don't the MSPs now say they want immigration and economic stimulation?

They may have to deal with the midge.
MSP, Member of Scottish Parliament
Midge, small insect with large bite, quite opposite to MSP [img]tongue.gif[/img] .
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
good one! But this is no joking matter
post #14 of 25
Years ago I had a book called 'We Learned to Ski' by a group of writers in the UK. They used French and German words for a lot of the moves/techiques they talked about, so I assumed they learned on the Continent.

I never knew, until seeing this thread, that there was skiing in Scotland. I did know from rock climbing that there can be a lot of snow and ice in Wales, but I though Scotland was all fog, kilts, whiskey and bagpipes.

I spend Christmas / New Years in the UK every other year; I hope there's a ski area open next time I'm there during winter.
We have several websites in the US dedicated to lost ski areas; but here it usually happens to small ones, which succumb to competition from bigger mountains.
post #15 of 25
Originally posted by daslider:
good one! But this is no joking matter
Sorry, it started as an ellucidation for those who would be unaware of the acronym MSP and what a midge was maybe.

My other half of the time dragged his tail from Plymouth via Leeds where I got on to Scotland for our first weekend skiing trip via coach. Arrived at 4am and was kitted up. Got soup at the hotel at the same time. Breakfast was at 7am. before we travelled to the ski area.
Was given lessons but no pass to use lift, had to walk up or both days. Can remember being told not to lean like on motorcycle. I think there was porridge and haddock for breakfast whch was good and a large baronial-like staircase in the hotel foyer. The other half went to sleep in the aisle of the coach. It cost £60
Otherwise a complete blank. Not a lasting, good impression. I think I was too tired.
Scotland is soooo far to get to. It is a shame the more local people are goin to lose a resource and jobs.

[ March 10, 2004, 10:26 AM: Message edited by: Nettie ]
post #16 of 25
Skied Cairngorm Monday to Wednesday this week first 2 days sunshine and blue skies with enough snow, today much colder with wind blown powder. Not the Alps maybe but with a season ticket for £230 and an average of 40-50 days a year it can be good value.
Freshtracks, Cairngorm would be a good bet this weekend if the weather holds though I suspect that it won't.
TheIceMan, The link for Cairngorms web page is www.cairngormmountain.com ,check out he webcams.Christmas and new year can be a bit hit and miss, March and April can often bring the best conditions
post #17 of 25
Thanks Lat 57. Any idea why the back corries at Nevis don't seem to be open? From recollection they are N. facing so should have the best snow on the hill -but then again my sense of direction always has been a bit iffy.

Any chance of dropping a conditions update on Friday morning either here or the Scottich ski conditions thread I'll post in the Resorts forum?
post #18 of 25
Freshtracks I don't think the West coast has had as much snow as the east recently so maybe the corries aren't in condition.
I will try to give an update but have just checked the mountain forcast which is predicting high winds and whiteout conditions, not that promising.
post #19 of 25
Damn...had hoped I could resume my affair with Scottish skiing, but sounds like mother natures not up for it again! RIP Scottish skiing?
post #20 of 25
Would love to say it's worth the effort to put together a rescue plan for the resorts ooop North, but both the skiing and the economics don't stack up.
Even from Manchester (a northern English city) it's still a 6 hour drive to the Scottish resorts. Petrol is over £3 ($6) a galllon here. Manchester airport is 10 minutes away and this year I used one and could have bought several other return flights to Geneva with BMi Baby for £37.50 retrun. From Geneva it's an hour to Chamonix and 1.5 hrs to Verbier. Four to a car cost us £25 each for three days. That means I can be at two top resorts in the Alps within 5 1/2 hours and with favourable flight prices travel for less.
I used to go to Scotland skiing every year. I've not been since 1995. Reason. Lack of, and downright unreliability of snow. In the years that I did go there I lost more days skiing to high winds closing lifts than I did poor snow (and the snow wasn't reliable then either.

This weekend I have the chance to ski Scotland as I'm working in Edinburgh on Saturday , but the snow doesn't look that appealing, I'll have to leave the decision late to make sure wind isn't going to be a factor and then I'm faced with a 6 hr drive Sunday night rather than a 1.5 hr drive followed by a realxing flight and (using the hour time difference) last orders in the local if I choose to head to the Alps instead.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not apathetic about skiing. If it snows in England's Peak Distric (no litfs)I'll hike for some turns. I've done 24 days alongside a regular job so far this season and would love to get more in byt spending Sunday at Nevis Range, but it's unlikely.

It's sad but true that unless we get a major climatice change and there is investment in an ariport serviced by chaep flights and within 30mins of Fort William and Caringorm, that it's RIP for Scottish skiing as we know and love it. Even more sad when the country has a skier who took 3rd place in the Olympics and a snowboarder who has been at No1 slot in the World Rakings this season to fire and inspire the kids.
post #21 of 25
If I go skiing in Scotland, I don't have to eat porridge and haddock for breakfast, do I?

I like this quote from the Cairngorm site:

"The M1 piste is open but is very narrow at the bottom and some walking is required."
post #22 of 25
You can actualy ski to the bottom but you have to jump over the rocks!.
Haddock and Porridge? I'll stick to my Cornflakes
post #23 of 25
Originally posted by Lat57.2N:

Haddock and Porridge? I'll stick to my Cornflakes
Actually, you can have kipper instead. Funny how with such a handle on a good breakfast the Scots are still the most unhealthy people in Europe.
Must be all those deep-fried Mars bars.
post #24 of 25
Thread Starter 

You quoted "The M1 piste is open but is very narrow at the bottom and some walking is required."

that sounds about right. I once had the most glorious day of fresh snow, blue skies and no queues at Glenshee, 'better than Colorado' someone quipped and it was difficult to see how it could have been better. That was until we descended to the last few 100 ft where the snow ran out; crossing a furious burn on a greasey log was followed by a 10' climb up a broken wooden ladder to get out of the burn and away home, all in ski boots carrying skis. Maybe this wasn't Colorado after all. Another day we were blown up a red run, so strong was the gale. It will all be sadly missed.

Freshtracks re Nevis Range/Aonach Mor

access can be the problem at the Aonach Mor back corries if the network of lifts isn't all open (Rob Roy etc) and the lower snows are broken. You can always get in but ski-patrol won't relish getting you out again. A very long walk.
post #25 of 25
I have fond memories my first season of skiing, I was at Killington in April, trying to get back from the the main lodge to Showshed on that traverse that connects the two.

During the day a lot of bare patches had appeared which weren't there when I'd started out in the morning; and being a beginner I didn't know enough to take the skis off, I just walked over the mud and gravel with the skis on.
They were rentals, of course.
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