Ultimate Guide to Ski Touring in Scotland by Campervan


We often have the discussion about skiing in Scotland, and despite trying it once as a student (a little worse for wear I’ll admit), we have never really been able to get it to make sense – it’s as far from us in Oxfordshire as the drive to Le Grand Bornand from Calais; the conditions are unpredictable; and the weather is variable at best – That was before. Now the mountains are calling.

We starting looking into ski touring (or backcountry as it’s also known) when we returned from our first motorhome ski trip. We went on an introduction course with Ellis Brigham at Tamworth SnowDome (this is worth a read if you’re totally new to backcountry) and after just a few hours in the inspiring company of backcountry guide Blair Aitken, we knew this was a sport we wanted to get into.

Fast forward a few seasons and here we are, in the depths of a global pandemic with unpredictable travel restrictions threatening the European ski season; the Brexit transition period closing in; with an appetite for adventure. 

I flicked through our little black book and found the solution to our problem. We had no idea where to start with planning a Scottish Ski Adventure that didn’t involve an overnight drive to try and catch the illusive snow/sun-combo that seems to hit Scotland once every 47 days with 20 minutes notice. I put a call into Blair and I asked if he could help.

Having recently converted a van himself, he’s a Winterised member and is the founder of British Backcountry with ski and mountain qualifications that make Bear Grylls look like a rank amateur adventurer.

Can I go ski touring in Scotland with my campervan or motorhome? One of the best ways to see, and ski in Scotland is from a motorhome or campervan. With the ability to chase the best snow conditions, you’ll find abundant snow sports opportunities from backcountry ski touring to snow-shoeing and mountain biking. 

Blair has put together a comprehensive guide to ski touring in Scotland using routes accessible to campervans and motorhomes from north of Edinburgh to the south of Inverness.

Blair Aitken

People have been skiing in Scotland for over a hundred years.

Long before the first ski lifts were built, ski mountaineers have been chasing winter, following the wind and precipitation to find the best descents on a given day. Today’s story is no different but the challenge has been made easier by the increased sharing of information, improved forecasts, better lightweight equipment and (for many) the comforts of a campervan. Chasing winter has never been so easy! 

Channel your Inner Carol Kirkwood

Rather than restricting ourselves to the ski areas, ski touring skis and splitboards open up possibilities all over the country. East, West, North and South, somewhere will hopefully have a weather window!

Predicting what the snow and weather will be like is the art of Scottish snow sports. Most will choose to follow the Mountain Weather Information Service in the lead up to a trip, then switch to the regular updates by MET office. This information combined with the avalanche reports by Scottish Avalanche Information Service, and research of a location, gives the best possible chance of experiencing Scotland in favourable conditions. 

The easy part is jumping in the van and heading to the hills once the decision is made, but it’s always worth following the updated forecast right up until the last minute incase a better opportunity appears elsewhere.

Motorhomes and Campervans in Scotland

Scotland has been slow to address to the rise in campervan use. The summer of 2020 has seen friction between campers and local communities as limited facilities, closed campsites, and anti-social dirty camping have wreaked havoc. The Forestry Commission have opened a number of car parks for single night stays but this has not offset the damage caused by companies such as Camping in the Forest who have refused to open their Scottish sites. With the summer holidays behind us it is hoped some normality will resume. 

Winter is a very different story to summer in Scotland and unless conditions are exceptional on a weekend, car parks are normally quiet until mid March. This is the perfect time to travel by campervan (as long as you’re prepared for winter conditions on the roads).

Cainrgorm

This guide focuses on the most commonly used areas along Scotland’s main roads. These areas are easily accessible by campervan (with a few caveats which are mentioned) and I have tried to take into account the various sizes of vehicle that may be used from T4s and self-build conversions, to coachbuilt motorhomes and Unimogs!

Our Recommendations for Travelling and Parking in Scotland with a Campervan

Travel Off-Peak

It is recommended to travel in the evening before, thus avoiding local roads during peak times. While your vehicle may be equipped for driving on snow, most other road users will not be. If you are chasing winter it’s better to have an empty road ahead of you! Travelling outside of peak times also means local drivers are not being slowed by larger vehicles and this helps improve how campervans are viewed in the highlands. 

Where to Stay Overnight

This is a sensitive issue. Travelling late in the evening allows you to arrive at the car park discreetly at night, normally when it is completely empty. Of course, ‘No overnight camping’ signs should be respected, and local camp sites used when possible. The problem is that most sites aren’t open in the winter. 

If you choose to arrive late and stay in the car park at the trailhead then the following considerations must be made: 

  • Park as if the car park were full and take up as little space as possible
  • Park at the edge of the car park in case snow needs to be cleared in the morning
  • Consider what you would do if the road becomes closed due to heavy snowfall and you have to remain there for longer than planned
  • Think how you will get your vehicle out of the parking space if there is snow that has not been cleared
  • Any door you are using regularly should parked away from the prevailing wind
  • Remember to give parking donations or purchase food in the cafe if there is the option 
  • …and of course leave nothing behind when you leave
Cairngorm
Glenshee

The following guide is divided into A roads, allowing for a Scottish snow sports road trip to be made. 

The obvious circular route would be to go North up the A85/A82, East along the A86 and then South down the A9, or vice versa. This could be extended to the Southern Cairngorms by visiting some of the locations on the A93.

Here we have added details to the most accessible areas, and also listed are others which are worthwhile. In general the venues in the West are more challenging with the ones listed later (in the East, back down the A9) being more mellow ski tours. 

Bing Maps

The map links are for Bing Mapping – you can switch between road maps for finding parking and Ordinance Survey mapping for help locating the summits. 

Omissions from this Guide

Those of you with Scottish Backcountry experience will note that missing from this guide is the terrain north of Inverness, arguably some of the finest in the country. The Fannichs, Ben Wyvis, Glen Affric, Torridon, An Teallach, Glen Shiel… the list is endless. The reason for this is that with the exception of The Fannichs and Wyvis, good snow is fleeting and unless you are local you are not likely to make the trip until you have more popular tours under your belt.

The Guides to Each Decent

I have noted the best descents in each area but your ascent route will need to be planned depending on snow conditions. 

Many follow walking routes (see walk highlands) but you will need to think about where the snow has been deposited by the wind, and take into account the stability of the snowpack. If in doubt keep the slope angle low. 

This guide is not enough on its own, it is to be used purely as a starting point for planning your trip. 

We’ve not included a list of skills needed, nor a kit list – if you want to accelerate your learning and get some real training under your belt, we recommend you take a look at Blair’s courses here and if it’s your first time, you couldn’t be in better hands if you book one of his tours.

There is no right or wrong time of year as temperatures and precipitation fluctuates so much throughout the winter, but we’ve included the most likely times of year that you’ll find good conditions at each venue. 

If you are fixed on visiting on a certain date, we suggest holding off on committing to a venue until the week before. You should also be prepared to do other activities (biking, paddling, walking etc) incase things don’t go as planned. A visit to the Highland’s is never a wasted trip if you come with an open mind, flexibility and the spirit of opportunism!

We’ve put together a table as an overview of the areas covered in more detail below.

Backcountry Skiing in Scotland

ROADMOUNTAINSEASONPARKING LEVEL
A85/A82/A86
Ben Lawers RangFebruary to late MarchThe National Trust Car ParkAll Levels
Glencoe Moutain ResortFebruary to AprilThe Ski Centre Car ParkAll Levels
Bidean nam BainMarch and AprilRoad-side LaybyFor experienced backcountry skiers only
Ben NevisMid-March to Late JuneThe North Face Car ParkIntermediate to Advanced
Aonach MorJanuary to AprilSki Centre Car ParkAll Levels
Creag MeagaidhFebruary to MarchA86All Levels
A9DrummochterJanuary to MarchCar Park near Balsporran B&BAll Levels
GlenfeshieJanuary to MarchNear trailhead All Levels
Caingorm and MacduiNovember to MayCoire Ciste Car Park or Ski Centre Car ParkAll Levels
BraeriachFebruary to MayUpper Tullochgrue and LaybyAll Levels
A93GlensheeJanuary to MarchSki Centre Car ParkAll Levels

A85 / A82 / A86

Ben Lawers Range

Good For: 

One of the best venues for snow sports in the country, with a high car park giving quick access to a huge variety of terrain and multiple summits. Easy touring, open bowls, multiple descents, variety of aspects, some moderately challenging terrain if you seek it out.

Time of Year: 

February to the end of March, although keep an eye on January storms.  

Parking: 

The National Trust Car Park is most suitable for larger vehicles, although the car park further up the road is a better starting point for Meall Nan Tarmachan. There is another car park at the north end of the reservoir which can be used for Meall Corranaiche, but this should only be considered if you know the road and car park are clear of snow and quiet as there may be no way of turning a vehicle around beyond the NTS car park. 

It is also vital to know if the Ben Lawers road is clear of snow before attempting to drive up, as many vehicles get stuck there every year and block the road for others. 

Best Descents: 

Meall nan Tarmachan has descent options off all sides and the best depends on where the snow has been deposited by the wind. 

The ascent roughly follows the summer path and the return is directly down from the first ridge. The cliffy area above the reservoir is to be avoided but some gullies on the South side see regular visitors. When conditions allow there is a lovely mellow descent to be had from below the steps south side, all the way down the valley towards Killin. 

The North side of the mountain has some terrific skiing but you need to consider how you will return to the car park. 

Similarly Meall Corranaich has multiple aspects that can be descended, my favourite being East towards the old shielings. It is often possibly to ski back to the road from this summit which makes for a terrific long descent. 

Beinn Ghlas tends to get rather windswept but often holds good snow on it’s East facing side after strong westerly winds. A good day out combines this with a second descent down Ben Lawers South East Face. 

Recommended Map: (Click the image for Amazon link)


Glencoe Mountain Resort

Glencoe

Good For: 

Lift served side country with some challenging steeper skiing a short hike away. 

Time of Year:

February to April, with late season descents also possible on good snow years.

Parking:

The Ski Centre car park has space for large vehicles but please park considerately and remember to pay a donation in the box (£2 per day, £5 overnight recommended). Although the cafe burnt down last year, they have a temporary cafe and some facilities for customers. 

Best Descents: 

This area is best discovered with help of Kenny Biggin’s Glencoe Guidebook

The south east facing slope down towards Ba Cottage is the most mellow sidecountry offering, while further west of this from near the summit there are steeper options. There are some sportier options off both Creise and from the Clach Leathad ridgeline but access is by a rocky scramble from the top of the resort.

Maps Used: Glencoe Map


Bidean nam Bian

Bidean nam Bian

Good For: 

More challenging and serious terrain in one of the most stunning locations in the country. 

Time of Year: 

March and April

Parking:

The roadside lay-by is the best option, but at weekends please note this gets busy even in winter. 

Best Descents:

There are many good gully lines to be skied here (the most famous being Broad Gully on Stob Coire nan Lochain) but they are steep and have numerous hazards. The most enjoyable open line is known as Paradise (East side of Bidean nam Bian and has various options which will depend upon where the snow has accumulated. Most winters it is possible to have a lengthy descent towards Coire Gabhail (aka the Lost Valley), twisting and turning around boulders and following stream lines. 

Maps Used: Glencoe Map


Ben Nevis and Carn-Mor Dearg

Ben Nevis

Good For: 

Gully Skiing and steep descents on the famous North Face, as well as some moderately steep bowls on CMD. The CIC Hut offers the option of a multiday trip without returning to the car park.

Time of Year: 

Mid March until late June

Parking: 

The North Face car park

Best Descents: 

For gully skiers, Ben Nevis’s Number 3, 4 and 5 are the most commonly skied but Coire an Lochain below is also an enjoyable place to ski without entering the gullies. All of the gullies are serious and hazardous and should not be underestimated.

Tower Gully into Observatory Gully complement these with an enormous descent off the highest point of Great Britain down a steep exposed gully.

Carn-Mor Dearg has some beautiful skiing down the East facing side into it’s three bowls which are slightly more friendly. The entrances can often be corniced and steep however. 

If you wish to ski the South side of Ben Nevis it is possible to park in Glen Nevis and ascend the tourist path, then descend the Red Burn. In the right conditions this could be one of the longest descents in the country and is far less challenging than the North Face when in good condition.

Maps Used: (Click the image for Amazon link)


Aonach Mor

Nevis Range

Good For: 

The best lift-served sidecountry in Scotland. The Backcorries of Nevis Range offer incredible terrain for the cost of a ski pass and a bit of pushing back around the traverse. The high starting point can also be used to access surrounding peaks. If we are fortunate enough to have snow from the east then the fabled West Face occasionally opens up giving access to alpine length gullies looking onto the majestic bowls of Carn More Dearg. 

Time of Year: 

January to April

Parking: 

Ski Centre Car Park

Best Descents:

All of the Backcorries itinerary descents are worth doing. There are endless other options, all of which are listed in Kenny Biggin’s Nevis Range guidebook.

Maps Used: (Click the image for Amazon link)


Creag Meagaidh

Creag Meagaidh

Good For: 

Quick access to the snowline and a huge variety of terrain. Many of the open slopes are grassy so don’t need a lot of cover to be usable. The downside to this is that they are avalanche prone. Coire Ardair has some very steep and serious gully skiing.

Time of Year: 

February to March (April if you are looking for steeps or gullies)

Parking: 

There is a large flat car park on the A86.

Best Descents: 

The simplest descent is down Sron a Choire, although that makes for a short visit. For a much longer journey it is possible to do a full traverse around the outside of Coire Ardair. If it’s possible to skin up to Carn Liath there is some more mellow terrain off the north side, but the return would be back down the ascent. 

Maps Used: (Click image to see map on Amazon)

Other Locations worth noting: 

Glen Roy, Ben More, Ben Lui, Ben Dorain, The Mamores, The Grey Corries

A9

Drummochter

Drummochter

Good For: 

Mellow ski tours with easy access directly from the A9. Multiple summits possible for those fit enough.

Time of Year: 

January – March

Parking: 

The car park near Balsporran Bed and Breakfast offers good access to several Munros. This can fill up during the weekend when there is good weather so please park considerately if you are travelling in a large vehicle. 

Best Descents:

Geal-charn is one of the best introductory ski touring venues, especially the NW descent into Coire Beul an Sporain. A more interesting descent is the West side which takes you almost to the shore of Loch Ericht with stunning views down to Ben Alder across the water. If you wish to venture further then you could do a lot worse than plan a trip out to Beinn Udlamain, taking in A’ Mharconaiche on the way home. 

Maps Used: (Click image for Amazon link)


Glenfeshie

Glenfeshie

Good For: 

Sheltering from Easterly and South Easterly winds. Occasional tree skiing when the snowline is low enough. Mellow terrain. 

Time of Year: 

January – March

Parking: 

The parking is a short walk along the road from the start of the trail. In winter is is normally quiet, unless the weather is good on a weekend. 

Best Descents:

The North facing stream lines off Meall Dubhag known as Tom, Dick and Harry offer good sport after both a SW and SE wind. Coire Ruadh, on the NW side of Carn Ban Mor allows for a longer descent, again following streamlines that collect snow from crossloading. If the snow has been coming in from the SW it is worth checking out the short decent from the 783 spot height which heads NE into Coire Ruadh.

Maps Used: (Click image for Amazon link)


Cairngorm & Ben Macdui

Cairngorm

Good For: 

Endless terrain and possibilities from blue run gradient to steep narrow gully descents. Whatever way you get down, snowboarding or skiing to the shores of Loch Avon is a must for any Scottish touring fan! The trip out to Macdui combined with a descent into the Lairig Ghru, and then back up to return one of the Northern Corries is a big day, but achievable for most fit tourers. This can be extended further to include a round of the 4000ers by crossing the Lairig Ghru and visiting Cairn Toul, The Angel’s Peak (Sgor an Lochain Uaine) and Braeriach as well (and is possible as a two day option camping at Corrour Bothy). Coire An t-Schneada offers superb gully skiing even late into spring, although the terrain is steep and exposed, and can be busy with climbers. 

Time of Year:

November – May

Parking: 

If you don’t mind a few extra vertical metres it is nice to start in the Coire Ciste car park and keep away from the busy ski centre car park. There has been talk of this one day becoming a parking area for camper vans, as a way of taking pressure off the car parks around Loch Morlich which even in winter are busy at night. Please bare in mind that parking overnight beyond the snowgates might mean you get stuck if the weather deteriorates. Wind transported snow can close the road quickly. The higher access point is the ski centre car park but the Snow Factory snow making machine currently runs on a diesel generator making it a noisy, smelly place to park. If you do park here please pay a car park donation and make a purchase in the cafe.

Best Descents:

The east side of Cairngorm consistently has good snow cover and is the easiest descent to Loch Avon, via the Saddle, if the snow allows. Even half of this descent is worthwhile and there are lots of variations. Similarly the South side of Cairngorm can be an excellent mellow ski when the snow has collected in the hollows. This is often used as a higher starting point for Ben Macdui where one of the longest descents in the area heads down it’s South side following All Clach nan Taillear.

Maps Used: (click image to Amazon link)


Braeriach

Braeriach

Good For: 

Every sort of skiing you could ask for! A big day out often accessed using mountain bikes to get to Glen Eanaich. This is a monster of a mountain with numerous Coires all of which have had ski descents down their faces and gully lines. There are mellow options too, including the descent back to the Glen itself. 

Time of Year:

February to May

Parking:

Although it is possible to park in the very pretty and slightly higher at the car park near Upper Tullochgrue, this is not suitable for large vehicles. There is another more accessible lay-by on the ski road at the start of the trail.

Best Descents:

Steep skiers are drawn to Coire BhrochainGarbh Coire and the stunning Loch Coire an Lochain, but there are easier options too. The favoured ascent, now known as the Escalator makes a fine ski back down. Further out Coire Gorm holds late snow even on it’s flatter slopes. It’s also possible to visit Loch Coire an Lochain by skiing around the West side of the crags. On the return to the Glen the steep skiers eye will be drawn toward Sgor Gaoith opposite which holds some of the longest and finest gully skiing opportunities in the country, when in condition. 

Maps Used: Cairngorm Map as above

Other Locations worth noting: 

Ben Alder, south side of The Monadhliath Mountains

A93 

Glenshee

Glenshee

Good For: 

Mellow ski tours with short challenging section if desired. Long, multi-descent routes and easy access from the high road. 

Time of Year: 

January – March 

Parking: 

The South side of the Ski Centre car park, away from the ski lifts. There are other options on either side of the car park further down the hill, but they aren’t well suited for larger vehicles. In the past a ski tourers pass has been offered which gave three uplifts (useful to get out to Glas Maol)

Best Descents: 

There are numerous descents to be made on both sides of the ski centre. It is hard to avoid getting close to the ski resort on the Cairnwell side, but a traverse above Loch Vrotachan can be combined nicely with either the North side of Carn Aosda, or to the South descending into Choire Dhirich from Carn nan Sac

Better touring is found out towards Glas Maol. The descent back into Coire a’ Bhathaich is terrific and offers easy access back out to the road, if the snow is low enough. Similarly to the North there is a good descent into Garbh-Choire. The route can be extended by skinning all the way around to Carn an Tuirc for a more interesting gradient slope. The return would be a skin back up the side of the road, or a lift if you are fortunate enough to have access to a second car (or can get someone to pick you up). 

Maps Used: Cairngorm Map as above

Other Locations worth noting:

Loch Nagar, Glas Tulaichean


Useful Links

Ski Mountaineering in Scotland 

Glencoe Off Piste 

Nevis Range Offpiste 

Steep Scotland 

Winter Sun 

Walk Highlands 

Forestry Commission parking 

British Backcountry Group 

For Weather:

Snow conditions Group 

Winter Highland webcams 

SAIS 
MWIS 
Met Office 

For more Information on Blair’s courses which we highly recommend, visit British Backcountry.

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