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The winter of 2008 is becoming the season of two halves and two coasts, early season the East took most of the snow and all the glory with absolutely fantastic conditions at Glenshee in January with extensive and very good sport also on offer at CairnGorm and the Lecht too. However after a settled spell of weather over half term giving great weather for being in the mountains but more limited terrain than in Jan, the weather patterns have shifted bringing the type of cool zonality that favours the West, big time!
Unfortunately for the East such a weather set up results in the thaws making it through but often not the snow which is gobbled up by the Western Mountains.
The end result is that people have seen the good conditions fade away in the Eastern two areas, some oblivious to the manor in which the thaw cycles that wrecked havoc in the East were having a different and altogether more positive effect on the West Coast, where the sheer strength of the early season storms had driven snow to considerable depth into the various gullies and deep natural snow fields. As hard as some of the thaws and bursts of torrential rain tried the depth of snow in the gullies on Meall a’ Bhuiridh and Aonach Mor could merely be slightly dented, each time the re-freeze arrived it only served to set up the rain saturated snow even harder than before giving a bomb proof base which the March snows have gradually but steadily been building on.
Scottish weather is fickle and the effects of a stormy maritime climate on snow cover complex, there can be huge variations from not just one coast to the other, but from one aspect to another on the same mountain or even within the same Coire. It is thus not unknown for half a mountainside to be devoid of the white stuff, while the other half is loaded with deep beautiful powder; such is the way of things in mountains where snow cover is built up not by the snow that falls from the sky, but largely by the snow that drifts around once it has fallen. This focuses the snow into terrain depressions such as gullies and stream courses that form the natural snow fields and allows these features to accumulate snow depths that are disproportionately large relative to overall snow fall, thus creating ski runs which far outlast the general cover and survive thaws and temperatures far above what average climate stats suggest is possible.
In short what this means for the Western Areas of Nevis Range and Glencoe, plus CairnGorm Mountain (which being in the middle geographically and in style of terrain to some extent gets the best of both worlds) is that SPRING IS KING in Scottish Snowsports.
Storm cycle after storm cycle, refreeze after thaw after freeze gradually builds up a base that usually does not peak on mid and upper levels until well into spring.
The best conditions for snowsports on the Scottish Mountains thus often come only after the time that risk of low level snow in large areas of population has markedly declined. Tell someone today that the Western Highlands is offering some of the best snow conditions in Europe and some of the most natural riding around and make sure they check out the photos too. Don’t even think of taking out the golf clubs or putting the toys in the loft, an epic weekend is just days away.
Oh and usually as spring advances, the slopes become quieter and any notion of queues a distant memory, but don’t tell everyone!