Clock is ticking on Early Bird Season Pass discounts...
We're into meteorological autumn and there's less than 2 weeks left to get your CairnGorm Mountain season pass at the early bird price. The deadline for Glencoe, Glenshee and the Lecht is 31st October, while Nevis Range is 9th November. The all area National Pass is available - but numbers are very limited and many renew so act quick if you want one of those.
Lots of people had fun on the Summer Solstice with Glencoe and Nevis Range spinning the Cliffhanger and Quad Chairlifts respectively to ease the hike for some lengthy mid-summer runs. Fantastic day had, at Glencoe people skied the full length of the Main Basin down the Wall, the Spring Run, Flypaper, Canyon and Thrombosis all saw action as well.
Seems like eon's ago and the nights are definitely drawing in quickly as we approach the autumnal equinox, but if you missed it definitely take a minute or two to check out the photos from the Summer Solstice (see to the right).
There's been a huge amount happening on the snowsports areas over the summer, Glencoe and Glenshee will have the most obvious additions when the season gets underway, but there's been plenty of less obvious but significant work going on everywhere this year.
At Glencoe the structure is now complete of the new Coire Pollach Tow which runs from below the Plateau Cafe adjacent to Old Mugs Alley to the top of the Plateau Poma. This will open up all the options off Old Mugs Alley to full lift service and provide access to easier and fairly uniform green trails to novices and early intermediates, without having to battle with the Plateau Poma or negotiate the trickier upper section of Mugs Alley from the Cliffhanger Chair.
For more experienced riders, the work started last summer rewiring the Top Tows is now complete with the Rannoch Button work complete. The new Tow should benefit all abilities, as it should shift a portion of customers from the Plateau Poma and Cliffhanger to the new tow. A new Plateau Chair is in the pipeline to start installation next summer.
This autumn the Access Chair is closed, it's been completely stripped down to just the superstructure at the bottom as work gets underway to replace the old diesel drive with a new modern electric drive system. Skiers and boarders arriving in winter mightn't notice much difference apart from a new shed, but around half a million is the price tag of this massive overhaul. (That shed houses switch gear, new sub-station and high capacity generator that can power the Access Chair and base area).
At CairnGorm the Sheiling Trainer Tow is being replaced by a handle tow, but there's no lift to see yet, just the extensive ground works. As there are no towers there wont be much to see until it's almost finished. More significant at CairnGorm is the heavy duty rewiring of the T-bars and several new gearboxes and/or motors, plus new controls for the Pomas.
Glenshee has the biggest development in progress, the single seat Cairnwell Chairlift has been taken out and it's being replaced by a Triple Chair that will combined with the Baddoch Chair mean uplift capacity from carpark level on the Cairnwell side will have increased almost 4 fold since 2011.
The snowsports areas would definitely like a continuation of the recently benign weather, but a frost or two would be useful as the midges are the worst they've been this year at present!
On the subject of the weather, you may well have seen numerous 'big freeze', 'worst winter since....' headlines in recent days relating to the developing El Nino that looks like it will be the biggest recorded.
Much of the media hype is driven by the fact we had El Nino conditions in the lead up to winter 2009/10. A number of notable winters in the British Isles have indeed coincided with El Nino events, but so to did the winter of 1997/98 that was infamous for all the wrong reasons. So it's not a simple clear cut case that El Nino = cold winter, but it does seem that El Nino does tend to push our winters away from average towards the extremes (for better or worse).
As with the 2010 and 2011 period, the QBO (Quasi Biennial Oscillation) is in phase with the Northern Hemisphere winter, that is to say that the mode change for Westerly (+ve) to Easterly (-ve) QBO is happening in summer / early autumn, with the peak of the cycle occurring in winter or spring.
Recent research has shown that a negative QBO around solar minimum makes a disrupted polar vortex more likely, which in turn favours blocked -ve NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) conditions and this increases the likelihood of a colder winter in our part of the world. That was the scenario we had in late 2009 going into the 2010 season.
However we are climbing out of a negative QBO winter/spring, with the QBO currently transitioning to a Westerly phase. We will enter the peak +ve period at some point in winter.
However, the research mentioned above has also observed that it is the +ve phase of the QBO that encourages -ve NAO conditions around solar maximum, and though solar activity is fairly low we are just starting to decline from the maximum of solar cycle 24.
Back in 1998 the QBO was out of phase with winter, it was transitioning from +ve to -ve during the ill fated 98 season and solar activity was low just beginning to climb from the minimum between solar cycles 22 and 23. As it became more negative, there was a period of amazing powder conditions on CairnGorm in the second half of April, where overnight freshies just kept piling up night after night!
It's also worth pondering the high pressure dominated period last week and the fairly benign situation over Scotland at present, was reflected in the same period of September 2009... Back then a stormy and very uneventful autumn for snow developed from a benign start, before a deep storm dragged colder air down and snow finally stuck at the end of November, the season got underway on CairnGorm with little warning catching people by surprise, then just before the Christmas Holidays the floodgates opened from the North.
This it should be noted is not a forecast, but it will make interesting watching through the autumn!
Nevis Range and Glencoe have both concluded their lift served mountain biking for the season. Glencoe closed at the end of August due to the Access Chair refurbishment.
Optimised for speedy access to the essential information from Scotland's five snowsports areas on even the slowest mobile connections our new Android app is the easiest way to keep tabs with what's happening on the move.
CAIRNGORM: All online. SSC AWS now back in service. We are gradually replacing hardware in the SSC Hut this autumn, so there maybe some service interruptions.
AVIEMORE: All 3 Aviemore cams online.
GLENCOE: Summit Cam and AWS are currently off-line due to Network Rail work at the Summit RETB (Radio Electronic Token Block) signalling mast.
NEVIS: Our mid Goose webcam is off-line for summer. It will be back on soon when the weather looks like there might be some snow to spot.
It's looking as if the weekend might be a fairly decent one in Highland Scotland as high pressure tries to ridge back in.
If you are looking for something to do, though the Access Chair is closed, the Summer Tubing is open at weekends on the dry slope behind the base cafe at Glencoe and it will also be open during the October school holidays.
Check the MWIS and Met Office Mountain forecasts for the latest detailed area mountain weather outlooks.
Glencoe: 01855 851226 www.glencoemountain.co.uk
Nevis Range: 01397 705825 www.nevisrange.co.uk
Lecht: 01975 651440 www.lecht.co.uk
CairnGorm: 01479 861261 www.cairngormmountain.co.uk
Glenshee: 013397 41320 www.ski-glenshee.co.uk