Covid in Scotland: Closed ski resorts have 'best snow in years'

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

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Image source, Angus Trinder
Image caption, Care and maintenance work continues at Cairngorm Mountain so the site remains ready to reopen - whenever the green light is given

Some of Scotland's mountain ski centres are having their best winter conditions in years while closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cairngorm Mountain, near Aviemore, has reported "high quality snow" on its slopes.

Glencoe Mountain said it was experiencing the best conditions it had ever seen for the time of year.

It follows weeks of frequent snowfalls and freezing temperatures, with more wintry weather expected this weekend.

All of mainland Scotland, along with the Western Isles, are in lockdown to supress the spread of Covid and to help prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Ski centres, like the vast majority of businesses, are closed in line with restrictions.

Image source, Glencoe Mountain
Image caption, Snow falling at Glencoe Mountain
Image source, Glencoe Mountain
Image caption, The operators of Glencoe Mountain said conditions were the best they had seen for the time of year

Cairngorm Mountain has a "skeleton" technical operations team still working to keep lifts and other facilities maintained and protected, ready for when the site can reopen.

Susan Smith, interim chief executive of Cairngorm Mountain, said: "For the whole team here, it is hugely frustrating that we are unable to welcome snowsports enthusiasts to enjoy the high-quality snow cover, which is the best we have seen in recent years.

"We await guidance from the Scottish government on the potential opportunity to reopen the ski area and hope that this winter weather continues."

Image source, Angus Trinder
Image caption, The snow-covered weather station at Cairngorm
Image source, Angus Trinder
Image caption, Scotland's snowsports sites are shut in line with lockdown measures

Andy Meldrum, of Glencoe Mountain, said his business was also working towards a date when they could welcome back skiers and snowboarders.

He said: "There is lots of snow - the best we have seen at this time of year - and the weather has been really good as well with less wind than normal.

"We remain ever hopeful that we will be able to open soon, even if it's only for locals.

"We successfully ran throughout most of December without any issues and believe we could do so again."

Lockdown and the outdoors

There are strict limits on non-essential travel and Scotland's mountains are out of bounds to most people. Those who flout the rules risk fines.

People who live within easy reach of the hills have also been urged to adhere closely to guidance on how to enjoy the outdoors safely.

For further information:

Recent years have seen Scotland's mountain snowsports centres invest heavily in artificial snow-making equipment because there was not enough of the natural white stuff.

This year there is more than enough snow, but few can enjoy it.

Image source, Angus Trinder
Image caption, A "skeleton" crew has been working at Cairngorm Mountain
Image source, Angus Trinder
Image caption, Artificial snow-making cannons covered by natural snow at Cairngorm

Last year resorts also missed out on "one of the best springs in years" due to the pandemic, having to shutdown just as lots of snow and a spell of calm, cold weather arrived.

Iain Cameron, who researches snow in Scotland, said this winter had been unusual.

He said: "The snow cover that is present, especially over the north east Highlands, is more extensive for the time of year than any since 2010.

"The Cairngorms have almost unbroken cover above 500m and lying snow has been present at a partially-frozen Loch Morlich for over a month.

"In the context of the last 20 years, this is very unusual."