Skiers taking on the steeps of Glencoe, with a cloud inversion beyond. Photo: Snowsport Scotland

Skiing in Scotland can be a famously unpredictable affair, but what the country lacks in reliable snow cover it makes up for in stunning mountain views and Highland hospitality. And when the snow does come? The skiing is absolutely fantastic too - whether you're a learner, an intermediate looking to cruise the pistes or a backcountry powder hound, eager to explore.

There are five ski resorts to pick from in Scotland. On the west coast, you’ve got Glencoe and the Nevis Range. The former looks onto the mighty Buachaille Etive Mòr, while the latter is situated on Aonach Mòr, a mountain neighbouring Ben Nevis. Then, over in the east of Scotland you've got the three resorts in the Cairngorm National Park - Cairngorm Mountain, Glenshee and the Lecht.

There's a wider group of people in Scotland and the UK that are now realising they've got something really special on their doorstep. It's there to be had.

Each of the five resorts has its benefits, but the key to skiing in Scotland is really to stay flexible. "You can base yourself in one point and be prepared to take advantage of the snow that comes," says Euan Baxter, Development Officer at Snowsport Scotland. "Or plan for some variation, and travel to wherever it's best."

Euan continues: "I've snowboarded and skied all around the world, but it's amazing to be able to step outside your door and score some turns. I think existing snowsports enthusiasts are now understanding that you don't necessarily need to be confided to one method of snowboarding or skiing, via lifts, either. You can go out and enjoy the backcountry. And partly due to Covid, there's also a wider group of people in Scotland and the UK that are now realising they've got something really special on their doorstep. It's there to be had."

When is the best time for skiing in Scotland?

Cairngorm mountain early season
The author, Stuart, on an early season trip to Cairngorm Mountain, before the bulk of the snow had arrived. Photo: Euan Baxter

It's a good question. As we've mentioned, flexibility and a get-up-and-go attitude are key to skiing in Scotland, but the snow often tends to be best later in the season. March and April often tend to be better than December and January, for example. That's not always the case though, so it really is worth staying tuned to the social media channels of the five ski resorts to see how they're getting on.

Andy Meldrum is the Managing Director of Glencoe Mountain resort, and gives good advice on planning a trip up north in advance. "We always tell people when they come to Scotland, come for an outdoor activity holiday - not just a ski holiday," says Andy. "Looking at previous years - it's likely you'll have some amazing ski days interspersed with some not so good days, and maybe some days when you can't ski at all. You can ski four or five days, then get out hiking or visit a whisky distillery, or an indoor ice wall. There's all sorts of other activities. Plan for a holiday and come skiing, and I'm confident you'll have a great time!"

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Sure, there may be winds, and the odd bit of sideways sleet, but when we think of skiing in Scotland, we think of frozen waterfalls, cruise-y pistes with views of mighty Munros or Caledonian Forest, and remarkable ski tours on roads of snow surrounded by rising mountains. So, what’s the best ski resort in Scotland to visit? That largely depends on where the snow is of course - but it also depends on what you’re looking for in the resort. Here’s our guide to skiing in Scotland:

Cairngorm Mountain

Cairngorm Mountain skiing in Scotland
The lifts at Cairngorm Mountain provide excellent backcountry access. Photo: Getty

Pistes: 32km/19.9 miles.

Breakdown: 33 runs (15 green, 10 blue, six red, two black).

Lifts: 12.

Altitude: 640-1,200m.

Location: In the Cairngorm National Park.

Nearest Train Station: Aviemore (25-minute drive).

Best for? A real bit of everything!

Apres-ski? Get yourself back to Aviemore, and into The Winking Owl. There’s usually live music at least once a week. If you’re lucky, it’ll be ‘Tweed’, a local folk group who play the hits.

Resort guide: Cairngorm Mountain is easily accessed thanks to Aviemore train station - Aviemore being an outdoor hub and the gateway to the Cairngorms. There’s plenty of accommodation, and there’s also an infrequent bus which runs to and from the centre of Aviemore to the ski resort. The drive itself is beautiful. You’ll find yourself weaving and winding up above the town, and by the time you reach the base lift, you’ve already got a beautiful view back down the way to Loch Morlich - one of the most popular lochs and hiking loops in the area.

Those views only get better as you get up to the slopes. You’ll be skiing between two corries - Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste. Beginners can stay on the lower slopes (next to the excellent cafe), and enjoy those far-reaching views, or head up the mountain to the Ptarmigan Bowl at the top of the resort. Snowmaking facilities at the base mean the lower area can operate without a lot of snow.

By the time you reach the base lift, you’ve already got a beautiful view back down the way to Loch Morlich

The most famous runs at Cairngorm Mountain are those that take you back down the centre of the resort - the M1 Race Piste and in particular, the iconic White Lady. Both are excellent fun. Intermediates and experts will want to head to the east side of the resort, where the more challenging runs await.

Pending snow, there’s also a terrain park in the Ptarmigan Bowl, and the ski touring options are great. The top station drops you not far from the summit of the eponymous Cairn Gorm, and from here, there are plenty of options to get into the backcountry and explore the plateau. Of course, appropriate safety gear and knowhow are essential, and the right conditions. Do not take your safety lightly!

The infamous funicular at Cairngorm Mountain - the point of much local (and national) debate - is still shut for the time being, but it's due to open again for the next season. Expect a deep sigh or a long conversation if you ask about it.

Glencoe Mountain

Glencoe road Scottish skiing
The author in front of Buachaille Etive Mòr, shot from the slopes of Glencoe Mountain Resort. Photo: Isabelle E

Pistes: 22km/14 miles.

Breakdown: 20 runs (eight green, five blue, five red, two black).

Lifts: 8.

Altitude: 305-1,108m.

Location: On the west coast of Scotland.

Nearest Train Station: Fort William (25-minute drive).

Best for? That classic Highland scenery.

Apres-ski? The Clachaig Inn is a legendary pub in Scottish outdoor circles, and you’ll always find a crowd and a good time at the Kingshouse Hotel.

Resort guide: Glencoe is the longest operating ski resort in Scotland, dating back to 1956 and set on the mountain Meall a’Bhuiridh. With the road through Glencoe famously featured in Skyfall, and running alongside the route to the West Highland Way, the area is synonymous with Highland beauty. No wonder. With Buachaille Etive Mòr - one of the most beautiful mountains in all of Scotland - on one side and the Devil’s Staircase on the other, it’s a hell of an environment.

We've got really good beginner runs areas, and potentially the steepest black run in the UK with Flypaper.

From the entry lift to Glencoe ski resort you’ll pass over waterfalls, and once up, you’ll be greeted with a beginner's haven - gentle slopes with plenty of room.

Up above, there’s more challenging terrain. The infamous Flypaper is often heralded as the steepest ski run in the United Kingdom. With a gradient somewhere around the 40 degree mark, it makes for a real thrill. And it’s beautiful too, with the Bridge of Orchy hills visible in the distance behind.

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For the best views, head onto Etive Glades on the other side of the resort. It’s a nice blue run with those famous views of Buachaille Etive Mòr.

There’s also an Avalanche Transceiver Park at Glencoe featuring “eight wireless permanently buried beacons” - making it a great place to top up on your survival skills before going ski touring.

Managing Director Andy Meldrum tells us the resort “is called the White Corries for a very good reason. When the wind blows, the snow blows into the corries and it builds up to quite a depth. It normally takes months for the snow to disappear. We've got really good beginner runs areas, and potentially the steepest black run in the UK with Flypaper. So if people want to come and test themselves, we've got great terrain. It's a great, family-friendly atmosphere."

Glenshee Ski Centre

Glenshee skiing in Scotland resort guide
Glenshee is the biggest ski resort in Scotland. Photo: Getty

Pistes: 40km/25 miles.

Breakdown: 36 runs (eight green, 13 blue, 13 red, two black).

Lifts: 22.

Altitude: 650-1,068m.

Location: In the Cairngorm National Park.

Nearest Train Station: Pitlochry (50-minute drive).

Apres-ski? Pop into Braemar Lodge. A 10-minute drive from Glenshee Ski Centre, it’s an old Victorian shooting lodge with scenic surroundings.

Best for? Racking up the kilometres.

Resort guide: The largest ski resort in Scotland, Glenshee isn’t particularly easily-reached by train, but it is one of the most accessible resorts by car. Just jump onto the A93 from the North East via Braemar or from the South West via Perth and Blairgowrie. When you get there, 40km of pisted runs await.

The resort is split in two parts either side of the A93. On the west, you've got a lovely network of green runs, which can allow you to cover quite a bit of terrain without taking on anything too tricky. You've then got blues around Càrn Aosda, which connect to the tellingly-named 'Scree Dodger'. On the other side of the west network, you've got Cairnwell, and notably the Tiger, which is often described as the most challenging pisted run in Scotland.

On the east, you’ve then got a ski area which gets trickier the deeper into it you get. There are a plethora of green and blues to start you off, then you get into the red runs of Meall Odhar and Caenlochain. Continue on to the Coire Fionn Bowl and you can catch a ride up Glas Moal - where endless ski touring and backcountry options await, or a 1.2 mile black run back the way, into the resort.

The Lecht 2090

scottish skiing the lecht 2090
The Lecht 2090 ski resort is a fantastic option for families and beginners. Photo: Snowsport Scotland

Pistes: 20km/12.5 miles.

Breakdown: 18 (five green, seven blue, five red, one black).

Lifts: 13.

Altitude: 645-780m.

Location: In the Cairngorm National Park.

Nearest Train Station: Aviemore (53-minute drive).

Apres-ski? Stick around in the Lecht Day Lodge for a drink after skiing… or drive the 20 minutes to Tomintoul Distillery for a mighty fine whisky tasting.

Best for? Families and beginners.

Resort guide: The Lecht is a small resort which packs a big punch, and the extensive snowmaking facilities make it the pick for many families, or those looking to learn to ski. The 2090 in the title refers to the base altitude of the resort in feet, which translates to 645m. It’s in the heart of the Cairngorms, between Strathdon and Tomintoul - a name that whisky lovers will be familiar with. The resort has been active since 1977, and it’s a bit of a playground.

On one side of the resort you’ve got access to a couple of fun red runs and a blue, while on the other, you’ll find the bulk of the action. An array of cruise-y, gentle blue runs share space with some lovely green, beginner runs just above the Day Lodge. Two travelators are often a relief for true beginners - who don’t have to deal with other types of lift as a result.

On the west side of the resort, you’ve then got steeper and steeper runs, culminating in the only black run in the resort. This is a great place to learn and improve your skiing, as you aim towards the race piste. It’s also a favourite resort with freestylers though - with a bunch of features including rails and boxes, and various jumps and kickers dotted around the resort.

The 2022 Winter Olympian Kirsty Muir learned here, as well as at Glenshee.

Nevis Range

Scottish skiing Nevis Range
The huge Highland views of a big appeal of the Nevis Range. Photo: Snowsport Scotland

Pistes: 20km/12.5 miles.

Breakdown: 35 (seven green, 12 blue, 11 red, five black).

Lifts: 12.

Altitude: 91-1,1221m.

Location: On the west coast of Scotland.

Nearest Train Station: Fort William (10-minute drive).

Apres-ski? Back in Fort William you’ll find pubs aplenty. Head to the Black Isle Bar, just off the high street, for the best craft beer in town.

Best for? Serious backcountry access.

Resort guide: This is Scotland's only ski resort with a gondola - and it's also the country's highest resort. Nevis Range isn’t, as many presume, actually on Ben Nevis, but on Aonach Mòr, northeast of the UK’s highest mountain. The gondola is fantastic - taking just over 10 minutes to take you from the foot of the resort to 650m, and making the resort truly accessible in the process.

Beginners can enjoy seven green runs which mostly lead to and from the restaurant, while the extensive, gentle blue runs are great for those taking the next step up. There are a whole host of slightly tougher blue and red runs to explore for intermediates. The views of Loch Eil and Linnhe are a huge appeal.

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The lifts also provide fantastic, challenging backcountry access without much hiking. Delve into the Back Corries when there’s been good snow and you really will find some of Scotland’s finest (and toughest) skiing. Look out for the Nevis Range classes in the Back Corries to get you started, and stay safe.

Fort William is frequented by London outdoor lovers due to the overnight sleeper train which runs from the English capital to the town - and in summer it’s a hub of world class mountain biking too. The UCI Downhill World Cup visits each year, and the Fort William track is the most iconic on the entire circuit.

Inspired? Why not combine a ski trip to Scotland with an adventure holiday, hiking and kayaking through the Scottish Highlands!