6 Epic Scottish Backcountry Descents
Image by Robert Grew & Words by Gavin Carruthers
With overseas travel uncertain this year, ski-touring in Scotland looks more appealing than ever. Gavin Carruthers of British Backcountry picks his six favourite spots.
BEN LAWERS RANGE: MEALL CORRANAICH
The hills around Ben Lawers offer great ski touring potential, and are also home to some high-level car parks, which can make the effort just a little easier. The west-facing bowl of Meall Corranich is superb, with plentiful mellow lines. A descent of 500m from summit to road is possible here. Mid-season, when the light lasts longer and snow cover is more sure, is the best time for it. The joy of skiing in the Ben Lawers range is you have slopes that you can ski on all aspects within a two-hour skin from the car. Meall Nan Tarmachan and Beinn Glass offer great alternatives.
Blair Aitkin of British Backcountry skiing powder on the Ben Lawers Range
CARN MOR DEARG: THE BOWLS
The highest of the series of east-facing bowls on the long Carn Mor Dearg ridge offers epic descents in a stunning location. After a steep start, the bowl has an inviting gradient which encourages fast flowing turns. This slope is often best in spring snow conditions, so get up here early while the bowl is still catching the best of the sun. Before dropping in, take a moment to look around at your surroundings - from the dramatic cliffs of the north face of Ben Nevis on one side to the multiple gully lines of Aonach Mor’s west face on the other. Does it get much better?
AONACH MOR: AN CHUL-CHOIRE
A hidden gem, partly due to the fact you pass several other worthy descents en route from the summit of Aonach Mor. Hidden away in the col between Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, this snow-sure gully is always worth the trip. Most of the descent is tucked in beneath the imposing cliffs of Aonach Beag, sheltering it from the wind and allowing it to catch snow coming in from the west. Depths up to 20cm are not uncommon here, and whenever you come you’re likely to find a decent covering, as it holds the snow so well.
Image: Blair Aitken
CAIRNGORMS: THE CAIRNGORM TRILOGY
The holy grail of gully skiing, a cult classic and bestseller. Later in the season is usually the best time to get this triple, but be prepared for the snow to be changeable as the aspects vary. You may end up with heavy snow, light powder and ice on the same day! Diagonal gully can be accessed via a short skin from the ski area, and the beauty of skiing down to a beach cannot be overstated. Castlegates gully is one of the most atmospheric routes in the Cairngorms. After a long slog out of Loch A’an you can decide if you have the legs for part three: Aladdin’s.
BRAERIACH: THE ESCALATOR
A bike and ski adventure for most of us, as it’s a long way from anything and on the limit of what can be done in a day. Having said that, some years it is possible to walk-in or even ski tour all the way. Otherwise, cycle into Loch Eanaich then find the snow line that takes you up the upper mountain. Getting this far and skiing back is a great day out, but if you have the skills, time and kit, then Coire Bhrochain is a wonderful place to visit. Central Buttress Gully & West Gully are two sublime descents, each with their own challenges. Leave time though - it’s a long way back to civilisation.
BEN NEVIS: NORTH FACE
The biggest of them all, and a significant step up from the others. Certainly accessible, as you can view the North face with a 1.5 - 2 hour hike from the car park. Steep descents, exposed terrain, and slopes littered with rockfall or avalanche debris - this is not for the fainthearted. But if you fancy a challenge and you enjoy a style of skiing more akin to the steeps of Chamonix, you’ll love it. Number four gully is the most forgiving angle of the numbered gullies - though it’s not easy by any means. Tower gully is a major achievement, and number 5 gulley is something else again!
Image: Robert Grew
For further inspiration check out the off-piste guide books written by Kenny Biggins or the steepscotland.info website by Scott Muir. British Backcountry run ski touring courses in Scotland developing your skills for the backcountry and lead trips to many of the descents mentioned above. Find out more at: british-backcountry.com