During my career as a “pro” skier, I’ve had the good fortune to ski in many of the biggest mountain ranges in the world - including North America (the Cascades, Rockies and British Columbia), the Alps, the Andes, and even the Himalayas. I’ve even competed in World Cup races and Freeskiing competitions, but none of my prior globetrotting prepared me for the Scottish ski experience...
Whilst visiting Scotland (on my day job as a Marine Biologist) I was invited to come and ski Glencoe. As an invited guest I was going to do my best to represent my country, my sponsors, and myself. It’s not like I was worried, I mean, Glencoe is in SCOTLAND after all. How gnarly can it get here? I had already skied with Doug, Eric & Grigor in the alps - so I trusted their judgment, even if they suggested deep powder wasnt a sure fire thing in Scotland. The boys lets slip to their friends that “a pro tele skier from the US” would be showing up that weekend, so I knew I had to be on my best, most ripping-est, behavior... When I arrived at Glencoe and put my skis in the rack I noticed that at 105mm underfoot, my K2 obSETHed skis were the widest skis by at least 20mm. I thought to myself “Pfft, these old-school punters haven’t figured out the whole fat ski thing yet”. I didn’t think much of it, as we all gathered around the wood burning stove, pulled out the whisky, played a variety of musical instruments, and settled in for the night.
The next morning dawned cold, wet, and windy, and the snowline had risen since last weekend - my dreams of a powder paradise were shattered. Still, how bad could it be? So it got rained on… at least it will be soft ? Wrong. Apparently the weather Gods thought it would be funny to saturate the mountain with rain and then re-freeze everything, leaving the mountain encased in an impenetrable clear-coat of ice. When describing the conditions, I’ve heard plenty skiers mention that the snow was “icy”. I too thought I had skied ice, but that was before I skied Glencoe. Here, I discovered that snow isn’t considered “real ice” until it’s actually clear and you can see the rocks and frozen heather underneath. On one hand this coating protects your bases from subsurface hazards, which is good. On the other hand ice is much better suited for chilling cocktails. And there I was at Glencoe, skiing on the hardest frozen water surface I had ever experienced.... If this surface been smooth it would be at least predictable (think a well manicured FIS racecourse), but the Glencoe terrain was more akin to the face of a pimply teen instead of an airbrushed supermodel. Little unpoppable ice-zits covered the mountain, and skiing over them led to such amazing vibrations that I feared for my fillings. Any attempt to set and hold an edge was quite futile - once the ski was tracking along for any length it would be disengaged and sent skidding laterally. Potentially resulting in your skis or knee releasing. I was on tele gear so ski releasing first wasn’t an option...
I asked if this was normal... and my hosts reluctantly confessed the weekend I chose to discover Glencoe was one of the worst of the season so far... but perhaps closer to the norm than a big powder day. Considering the conditions, I now realized why razor-sharp narrow race skis, not rockered powder killers, are the preferred weapon for a Glencoe assault. Even with the ice, there were plenty of hardy souls out there and I never once heard anyone seriously complaining. Everyone was happy to be skiing and amongst the smiles in the queues - the most common thing I heard was “at least it isn’t still raining”.
Still, the locals all promised that on the right day Glencoe could deliver the goods, and I believed their enthusiasm. A short skin revealed nearby terrain that may not have been Alaska, but it was certainly easy enough to access and interesting enough to keep anyone busy. And with everyone skiing on the same “pistes”, by the afternoon the ice was broken into icy shards that were almost soft. We skied legendary zones such as the Flypaper and the Haggistrap itself, and then maximized our vertical by skiing all the way back to the base station - through the streams and heather instead of downloading like most normal people.
By the end of the weekend my edges were dull and my knees were sore - and I knew that while Glencoe may not have the vert of Chamonix, or the powder of Mt. Baker, the ski area and the skiers and boarders that call it home were every bit as hardcore as the locals at any other extremo ski area I’ve ever been to.
Words and Photos.
Adam U - K2 Skis
EDITORS NOTE : Yup - this was a genuine boiler plate day, as can only be found on the west coast of Scotland. To his credit Adam didnt complain once about the dubious conditions, skied until end of the day, and he also knows the correct spelling of Whisky. We are secretly proud that Glencoe is now officially the worlds finest venue for lovers of firm and fast snow.