Skiing in Glencoe and après-ski in Glasgow: a brilliant Scottish weekend on and off the slopes | ski holidays
Skiing in the sun with a view of the big mountain, dine on a cheese fondue and end the day in a luxurious hotel room with a beautiful bathtub. It may sound like alpine dreams, but you can keep your wooden chalets and picturesque Swiss valleys – I can’t afford them anyway. I get all of this on a ski and town trip to Glasgow. Good. Kind of.
The skiing part of the holiday actually happens at Glencoe Mountain Resort in the Scottish Highlands. I won’t try to strap in and ski past Greggs on Buchanan Street downtown. Scotland’s biggest city is currently snow-free except for the year-round snowdome at XSite Braehead, a 15-minute drive away on the M8. This is where Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports makes the dream of a car-free ski weekend in Glasgow come true.
The store has just launched a new mountain shuttle to transport winter sports enthusiasts from Braehead to Glencoe or Glenshee ski resorts every weekend, saving you the hassle of driving yourself, while reducing emissions of carbon by pooling a journey.
The bus leaves at 7am (rental is available from 6am) and arrives in time for the first lift. You are then free to ski all day, before taking the bus back after the lifts close at around 4:30 p.m. As planned, you’ll be back in Glasgow at 7 p.m. for your après-ski, whether it’s a fondue and fine meal or a bottle of Buckie and a munchie box (an assortment tastiest and unhealthiest dishes in the world, from pizza and fries to doner meat and pakoras, available in all good Glasgow takeaways).
“A lot of our customers have told us they’ve given up their car,” Alex McAlindon, manager of Ellis Brigham in Braehead, tells me. “They’re working from home now, so they don’t need their vehicles, or they’re making a moral and environmental choice. Resorts still struggle to put cars there. A bus can take 30 cars out of the car parks.
I choose from a great selection of the latest rental demo gear, settling on a set of Salomon S/Force skis. The bus fills up with a mix of seasoned skiers, beginners and a few hikers taking a ride. The early start means a sleepy atmosphere on the scenic journey – including sunrise over Loch Lomond – but a few hours later me and my fancy skis are rolling into Glencoe via “the Skyfall route” (which featured in the film Jump).
Scottish skiing is a little hampered by the unpredictable weather, but if the wind doesn’t blow you away, the views certainly will.
The mighty Buachaille Etive Mòr looms on one side of Glencoe. It’s a real mountain – the kind of sturdy, triangular beast a four-year-old would draw. Across the valley is the West Highland Way, which passes the Kingshouse Hotel and continues to Devil’s Staircase Road and Fort William.
Glencoe Mountain Resort opened in the 1950s on the northern slopes of Meall a’ Bhuiridh and is Scotland’s oldest ski area served by lifts.
The access lift takes us from the base station to the plateau over beautiful cascading waterfalls. There isn’t much snow at the base, but we’re climbing in white snow, and when the plateau comes up, it’s covered.
The resort has seen substantial improvement since being taken over by current general manager Andy Meldrum in 2009, but the elements can still take their toll. He tells me the elevators were struck by lightning last week, forcing them to rely on generators for a few days. And a new base cafe is being built to replace the one that burned down on Christmas Day in 2019.
“You just accept that sometimes things don’t go your way,” Meldrum says. “Staff and customers are so supportive, though. The skiing can be as good as anywhere in Europe. It can also be quite miserable, but you get mind-blowing conditions.
Views of Rannoch Moor from the top prove Meldrum’s point. To the west are challenging routes including Flypaper, the UK’s steepest inland run, while to the east are some of the most scenic blue runs on the continent: wide exposed slopes of Buachaille.
The clouds part as I sip hot chocolate at the Plateau Cafe, and although there’s the odd 35mph gust of wind, blowing snow in my face, it’s a glorious afternoon . Still, Meldrum says the best is yet to come in Glencoe: “We tend to have storms in January and February and then the weather sets in. We normally ski until the end of April or the beginning of May.
As with all good things, the end of the day comes too soon. During the bus ride, skiers sleep or chat throughout their day on the hill.
After dropping off our gear, my partner and I hop in a taxi and head out for an afternoon. This is where the idea of the city and skiing takes on its full meaning. Glasgow is like Mayrhofen but with less oompah music and a lot more people. There are plenty of spas and saunas if you want the full alpine treatment, but perhaps more appealing is the nightlife, which is among the best in the UK. The bustling east end is home to the Barrowlands, the center of the marvelous King Tut concert hall and the legendary Sub Club.
We head to Brel, a Belgian restaurant set among the fairy lights of Ashton Lane in the glitzy West End. An excessive serving of melted cheese and beer by the mug seems like a smart choice.
Then, return to the boutique Alamo Guest House to stay in a restored Victorian townhouse on the edge of Kelvingrove Park and the famous art gallery and museum. As it falls into darkness outside, I run a bubble bath and end my night by bathing in the most restorative substance: Scottish tap water.
Scottish skiing may be unpredictable, but when it’s good, it’s great. Add a weekend in Glasgow, and it’s an absolute winner.
Accommodation at the Alamo Guest House has been provided by Visit Scotland (doubles from £76 guest rooms). The mountain shuttle (£25 round trip + booking fee) was provided and operated by Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports and run to Glencoe every Saturday and Glenshee every Sunday until the end of the season (usually until the end of April/beginning of May). Lift passes for Glenshee must be purchased in advance. Lift passes for Glencoe can be purchased on the bus. Ski or snowboard rental for day fee £25 (provide boots or rental in resort). For more information and snow conditions see Visit Scotland