The Cairngorms is synonymous with breath-taking mountain terrain and high octane skiing and snowboarding as the depth and range of skiing opportunities across Glenshee, the Lecht and the Cairngorm Mountain is vast and exhilarating.
But hurtling down a mountainside isn’t the only way to ski.
Nigel Wells (pictured), who provides tuition for the Aviemore and Glenmore Ski Shop, is a passionate advocate of cross country skiing which is a completely different approach to experiencing the landscape, expanding your skills on snow and testing yourself.
“It’s the only form of skiing that allows people to truly appreciate the Scottish countryside and really immerse themselves in the forest. The silence, compounded by the compacted snow, can be deafening and the scenery in the Cairngorms is quite something.”
Nigel is a BASI level 2 instructor but he only started skiing in his late twenties proving it’s never too late to start. He left school at 16 and experienced a demanding career with the Police force in Bradford, including becoming a Firearms Officer and a member of a specialist unit involved in the Ripper enquiries and the Toxteth and Leeds Riots, but he was soon looking for his next challenge.
Cross country skiing started as a hobby in the 1970’s but after a holiday in Aviemore Nigel became such a regular visitor that he virtually slipped into teaching. When he left the Police in 1998 he made his move to Aviemore to become a full time ski instructor and now knows the terrain of the Cairngorms intimately.
“Cross country skiing can be immensely challenging. You don’t have gravity on your side propelling you down a hillside so self-locomotion is the order of the day and that requires some effort on the part of the individual. You use your whole body and can burn around 500 calories an hour. It’s the top all over calorie burner ahead of swimming and cycling and requires huge stamina but it’s also hugely accessible.
“Children can try it and I’m also hugely interested in adaptive cross country skiing for those with disabilities. You can take it at a gentler pace or you can really speed through the forest as there are a variety of trails available in the winter months and with Glenmore now having a piste machine many more can now be cleared.”
Depending on the snowfall tracks run through Glenmore forest, taking in Bagaduish, the south side of Loch Morlich and excellent views as skiers cruise past Meall a’Bhuachaille just north of the loch and the forest. The Glenmore Cross Country Ski Machine was an investment to improve cross country skiing in the region and it’s hugely popular for an inanimate object.
With its own Facebook page the machine’s run as a charity to encourage the advancement of public participation in sport, but the beauty of cross country skiing is that those who wish to explore aren’t necessarily confined to the tracks but can venture out and explore as desired.
Cross country skiing offers its followers further advantages as Nigel explains:
“Well it’s quite economic as far as skiing goes. As long as you dress sensibly for the outdoor temperatures you don’t need quite so much kit or ski wear. You don’t have to buy a lift pass and another huge bonus is that you don’t have to queue for the lifts. That’s a lot of extra skiing time. If there’s snow on the ground you can do cross country skiing virtually anywhere so it’s really flexible.”
As cross country skiing takes place on lower ground it’s more weather dependent than mountain-top snow sports so it’s definitely worth keeping a keen eye on the forecasts. The Aviemore and Glenmore Ski Shop and its instructors have the latest information on the weather conditions, tracks being cut and other suitable terrain available.
For dedicated skiers or for complete novices cross country skiing offers a challenging way to get the most out of the stunning Cairngorms countryside and try a form of skiing that can be gentle and peaceful or rigorous and intense.
The Cairngorms National Park, in the heart of the Highlands, is the largest National Park in the UK and is made up of five different areas – Aviemore and Cairngorms; Angus Glens; Atholl and Glenshee; Tomintoul and Glenlivet; and Royal Deeside and Donside. To find out where to stay, what to do and what’s happening across the Cairngorms National Park this winter visit www.visitcairngorms.com