Take the high road (I already took the low road)

The current good conditions in Scotland are rare indeed and I like Winter Highland's advice: 'It's midweek, it's quiet, the snow is good, throw a sickie.....'

Sadly, its not always like that as witnessed by this piece I wrote last year for The Aspect Journal. I now offer it here too for posterity: my account of a typically wet day riding in Scotland.

We wanted to start the next thousand years as we wished them to continue. So when we slipped out of the village at seven in the morning on New Year's Day 2001, we felt rather smug. We envisaged the rest of our friends slumped by the fire at the end of the day, suffering from holiday bloat, when we would return as rugged, mountain-conquering heroes with tales to tell.

Fifteen of us had gathered in the west of Scotland to celebrate the "real" start of the millennium. An hour in, after a lavish Hogmanay dinner and ceilidh, two of the party had discreetly staggered off for an early night. So the fact that we were on the road so early felt like an achievement in itself.

The entire United Kingdom was in the grip of a vicious cold snap with most of the country covered in snow and we were certain that a trip to Scotland would offer some snowboarding opportunities. Unfortunately, Presbyterian Glencoe, the nearest ski area to our holiday village, chose not to open for religious reasons, despite rare good conditions. Further north, Nevis Range was reporting far less snow and had not yet opened for the season. For several days, however, the resort's Web site had promised that it would open on New Year's Day.

After two hours on the road we arrived at an empty car park. We quickly learned that there was too little snow to open properly but that the resort manager would make a decision within the next hour as to whether they could open anything. We settled down in the café with a few other hopefuls to rest our weary heads and wait.

Finally the manager announced that, as promised, Nevis Range would open. The shivering snow addicts cheered. However we would have to be patient, he explained, because to get us to the limited snow his staff would need to reconfigure a drag lift to start higher up the mountain.

By lunch time the lift was ready and twenty or so hardcore skiers and riders jostled enthusiastically to the chair lift that would give us access to the hill. From there it would be a short hike to the tow lift that now served the upper half of a narrow snow gully flanked by brown heather.

We savoured the first few runs as though they were the reward for climbing Everest. We revelled in the camaraderie that had developed between the resort staff and their most committed customers.

Then, perhaps inevitably for Scotland, the rain started. A slight drizzle at first, we barely noticed it. A few timid souls trudged toward the chair lift but we kept going, donning goggles and hoods, relishing the rain as an additional hardship to be overcome.

Water seeped through our clothes, running down our limbs while we cowered on the tow. Soon there were only a handful of people left on the hill and what little snow was left was fast dissolving. We made a final run, dodging the newly exposed patches of heather, and unstrapped our snowboards, smiling.

Two hours later around the fire, still wet, we recounted the day to our mocking and deriding friends. We had no doubt, though, that we had made the right decision to go snowboarding that morning. We only hoped that our perseverance would be rewarded with better conditions for the next thousand years.

28 February 2005 Permalink
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