Thursday 3 May 2012

May Day Ski Tour

On the summit of Ben Macdui      

Winter has come late, very late, to the Cairngorms. After months of mild, even hot, weather with much rain, light winds and only occasional snow that never lasted long the end of April brought heavy snow to the tops and frosty nights to ensure it has lasted. At last there was a chance to undertake my favourite ski tour, across the Cairngorm Plateau to Ben Macdui. I usually do this tour at least once every season. This year had looked like being the exception. However on May Day I set off up the mountain, only needing to carry my skis for the first twenty minutes or so. Then it was onto the snow.*

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

And what snow! A complete deep cover stretching unbroken right across to Ben Macdui. High in the sky the hot sun shown down making the snow brighter and sharper than it appears earlier in the year. The sky was a deep alpine blue.**  Rarely do the hills look like this as such extensive snow cover is highly unusual this late in the spring. 

View across the Plateau to Cairn Gorm

The skiing to Ben Macdui was delightful, the spring snow being slick and fast so the skis slid easily across it. Several other skiers were out enjoying the magical conditions plus one pair of walkers. Looking at the deep holes their boots made in the snow I was glad of the freedom of my skis. Swooping and gliding rather than trudging and stumbling.

Across the Lairig Ghru pass the great peaks of Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine were all shining in the sun, white with snow. Looking west from Ben Macdui the farther hills appeared more snow free. Only south and east did they look as white. I sat on the summit in the sunshine watching a snow bunting pecking round for food scraps. Usually any stop here in the snow requires bundling up in insulated clothing. This time a light jacket to fend off the occasional cool gust of wind was all I needed. Sunscreen and dark glasses were more important equipment than warm clothing.

Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine

Back across the Plateau I crossed the shoulder of Cairn Lochan and had the best downhill skiing of the day, down lovely smooth slopes into the head of Lurcher’s Gully before linking the last patches of snow until finally I had to remove my skis for the last quarter of an hour. Above the mountains glistened. A perfect mountain day. A perfect May Day.

*Note for skiers. I used climbing skins for the ascent to the Plateau and then Swix Red Special grip wax, which worked perfectly, for the rest of the tour.

** Note for photographers. The sky really was that blue. No polarising filter was used nor have I boosted the saturation in editing software.


  1. Chris,
    I can't believe all that snow! Only 6 weeks ago there was none. It's good you took advantage of it, but I guess it won't last long now, as you pointed out, that the sun is higher in the sky. Thank you for sharing your story and photos with us.

  2. Alastair, more snow is forecast over the weekend and into next week, some of it falling at low levels. Much colder temperatures are forecast too. I think it will last for some time yet!

  3. Just stunning Chris. I'm really jealous you got to go skiing in your back yard in May! I was over in Norway in February getting my fix, but to be able to get those conditions in Scotland is fantastic. Need to get back up there next winter.....maybe to test some of the Bergans kit we are now carrying. Cheers Rhodri

  4. I'm so jealous of those hills, although here in Oslo we had snow this morning. That blue sky looked surreal so I'm glad you added the notes!
    Does make me wonder how the TGOCers will get on in just under 2 weeks time now.

  5. Wow Chris, unreal ski touring conditions so late in the season. It's been an odd ski season for many, I'm just glad you got out to undertake such a grand tour in such wonderful weather.

  6. Brilliant, really brought a smile to my face this! :-)

  7. Awesome snowscapes! Haven't done any hikes in the snow, much less ski! Maybe I'm just a bit "scared" of getting too cold. Keep thinking about it though.

  8. Just what I've been looking for - evidence that it can be snowy in Scotland without the wind blowing you off your feet! Every time I've tried Scotland for skiing, it's either been no snow or whip you off your feet wind.

    So jealous :)