Try Scotland's Ski Wonderland

At this time of year many skiers and snowboarders start booking and planning their ski break, with most of us heading to Europe in search of winter adrenaline thrills. This year we need not waste the airfare, as Scotland can offer good to excellent skiing experiences, which comes wrapped in some of the finest mountain scenery anywhere in the world.

The country is not new to offering skiing experiences as it boasts five well-established centres, all offering something different, but all sharing an infectious enthusiasm and love for winter sports. Scotland often boasts great skiing conditions and one madcap Scot has just recently finished a year of skiing every single day!

Piste off

The Nevis Range, which is home to the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, has a handy gondola to whisk you up to the pistes. It offers skiing up to 1190m, meaning that the action here often careers on into late spring. There are green and blue runs right outside the grondola and the adjacent restaurant, but you will need to traipse a bit higher for the more challenging black and red runs.

Lift off

To the south, Glencoe is a modest centre but the scenery is no less spectacular. It was the first ski centre in Scotland to set up a lift in 1956 and today there are seven lifts and 19 runs. The grand-daddy of them all is the 'Fly Paper' - said to be the steepest and most-challenging black run in the UK. The skiing here is typical of the value in Scotland - for £60 you get equipment hire, a two-hour lesson and a full area day ticket.

Ice ice baby

Moving further east, the slopes at Cairngorm drop off the massive snow and ice plateau of the Cairngorms, the finest arctic wilderness in the UK. A modern funicular zips skiers and snowboarders up to the Ptarmigan Restaurant, and there are 11 further lifts on hand. The drop between the funicular stations is more than 400m, with the longest run 3.3km. There is a freestyle park too. Apres ski the nearby resort of Aviemore is Scotland's winter adventure capital with a fun nightlife scene and plenty of outdoor gear shops.

Small time

Even further to the east is the small but perfectly formed Lecht, which sits at a high level, giving it a long season. There are 20 runs stretching over 20kms, with seven blue runs for beginners, five more challenging reds and one seriously testing black downhill. Look out too for the snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

Size is everything

The largest is Glenshee, spread across a whopping 810ha and straddling a quartet of mountains. It boasts 21 lifts and tows with 36 runs stretching for over 40km. Glas Maol is the longest at a strength sapping 2km. Glenshee's extensive snow-making facilities help it prolong what these days in Scotland is already the lengthy skiing season.

Off Piste Winter activities in Scotland:

  • Dog sledding: Believe it or not you can now go dog sledding in the UK. The stunning Cairngorms, near Aviemore, are the venue.
  • Ice climbing: This serious (read insane) form of winter thrills takes you deep into the death zone armed only with crampons and an ice axe. Beginners can test their skills indoor first at Kinlochleven.
  • Curling: Scotland is, of course, the home of this rather bizarre Olympic sport, The World Curling Federation, based in Scotland, are the contact if you want to find out more.
  • Cross-country skiing: Clashindorrack Forest in Aberdeenshire is the place to head to enjoy this gentler, though lung bursting, form of skiing. The Huntly Nordiac and Outdoor Centre will sort you out.
  • Swimming: You will be in good company if you do it in the Edinburgh suburb of South Queensferry. It is home to the madcap 'Loony Dook' on January 1 when the locals hurl themselves into the chill waters of the Firth of Forth. You can take to the waters anytime.