As October arrives and winter starts tantalising with a few days of cooler weather with transient snow on the tops the fomo levels start building. Social media channels wake up to the fact that winter is approaching and, in a global digital world, early skiing is soon reported in Northern Scandinavia, the Alps and in the USA.
In Scotland however early skiing in either October or November is an ephemeral activity. Blown in on Northerly gales, snow rapidly collects on the highest ground but for those of us keen to take advantage the secret is to drop everything and head up as soon as the snow appears since it is highly likely that within 24 hours it will be all gone. So it was earlier this month when a cold front blew through overnight and the rapid cooling of a moist airmass led to considerable snowfall over the Northern Cairngorms. Summit temperatures plummeted and web cams hinted at the arrival of snow. By 7am a plan had already been hatched with Kev Neal & I meeting at the Cairngorm car park and within minutes Gordon Pearson also on board having himself spotted the likelihood of action
A look around the car park confirmed none of the usual Speyside snow suspects had the same idea as us with no evidence of anyone having already headed up. We set off walking up to the top of the gunbarrel in Coire Cas where the 4cm of level snow provided just sufficient depth to get the skis on and start skinning up. Nothing ambitious for our first day of the season and with rock sharks showing everywhere we carefully navigated our way around the south side of Cairngorm finally concluding that our enthusiasm wasnt going to get us any further with barely sufficient depth to traverse let alone descend.
Somewhere above Coire Raibeirt, the winds from the NW started gusting ever stronger and snow started to blow everywhere, a reminder of how wild the Cairngorms can become in a very short space of time as this quickly snatched video shows.
Click here for a short film clip : video
A quick socially distanced discussion about what to do and we headed over to Marquis Well. A less than eloquent descent followed with Gordon managing some classic tele turns despite the new super light weight touring gear he’d chosen to test. Thankfully in the short time we’d been over the back the wind had quickly blown snow against the upper Ptarmigan snow fence which provided a brief, albeit narrow, ski line before granite rubble quickly reminded us to take more care. Another food stop outside the forlorn and rapidly decaying Ptarmigan station and then a few hundred metres of short turns down the Ciste fairway into the M2 before all too soon the snow became too thin to continue. Skis were mounted on the rucksacks and we headed down to the cars.
A snatched day on ski with little to get excited about……. except it was confirmation winter is almost here and the anticipation of whats to come has been notched up a couple of levels.
Lets hope for a long snowy winter and crucially one where covid is brought under control allowing access the hills regardless of where we live.
Kev Neal, Gordon Pearson & Al Todd