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|Resort: Nevis Range (also known as Aonach Mor)
Domain Western Highlands: second ridge East of Ben Nevis.
Date 11-14th April 2008
Our holiday 3 days of skiing plus the Friday driving up, snatched at a dayâ€™s notice on hearing of good snow. Monday 5pm, after the skiing I drove back to London, arriving 2.30am.
Website http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/winter/ and for snow conditions and photos: http://www.winterhighland.info/2006/pix/pixalbum.php?pix_id=59 and http://ski.visitscotland.com/conditions/
Basics Just north of Fort William. I gather there is an occasional bus from Fort William (3 miles to the south) but a car is an advantage (and allows visits to other Scottish ski resorts, especially Glencoe just to the south. There are overnight trains to Fort William from London but they arrive after the start of skiing. Driving from Glasgow airport to Glencoe takes an hour and a half (north half of Loch Lomond is winding ang slow but very scenic) and Fort William (via spectacular Glencoe itself) another 35 minutes.
Due to global warming, all Scottish resorts, unless you live nearby, should be visited only on an opportunistic basis when you hear good snow reports. They are small by alpine standards and prone to bad weather and especially high winds. In consequence the pistes are usually between snow fences to help collect and hold the snow. However when conditions are good they can be wonderful â€“ most especially (if you are a good skier) Nevis, because of the Back Corries skiing and generally large open slopes with few snow fences. Access is by a good Gondola lift from near sea level up to 650 metres. Top of lift served skiing is at 1200 metres.
When visibility is good there are spectacular views all the way to Skye.
There is a good CafĂ© with hot and cold food and drinks at the top of of the Gondola.
Ski / board / boot hire at the bottom of the access gondola.
Lift system Small and generally antiquated with many drag lifts due to frequent high winds. A modern access Gondola lift takes you up nearly 2,000ft from the car park to the ski area. Braveheart, in the back bowl is seldom opened (only in good snow conditions at weekends and holidays). Day ticket ÂŁ24 Lifts open 9.00, lifts on slopes close 4.15 (4.00 summit tow, 3.30 Braveheart but will run-off any queue). Gondola closes 5.30
12 lifts, Runs: 20km pisted 35km unpisted. 575m vertical - longest run 2km
For piste map see: http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/winter/mountain/map.asp
Terrain Snow level tends to be around or just above the Restaurant / gondola top-station where the easier slopes are. Consequently they can suffer from lack of snow. The best is probably accessed by the Great Glen chairlift off to the left if it is running (as it was when I was there). Really beginners are better off at other Scottish resorts.
For better skiers the Goose is the best run and Warrens when there is enough snow. There is a black which follows the ridge which also needs good snow.
For very good skiers, however, the glory of Nevis skiing is the back-bowls (or Back Corries) of which the patrolled part is beyond and to the left of the summit tow (follow the line of poles which diverge - right - from the path). For further off-piste options (some requiring a longish walk) go right from the summit tow. They end in long runs down the valley to the Braveheart tow. However beware that all this area has very steep entries and frequent cornices and between these is high cliffs â€“ so do not explore except in good visibility. Ski out by a long traverse around the mountain to the left.
For much more detail on these areas (and photos) see my Back Corries TR at the bottom of the page.
Views from the ski area can be stunning. In good visibility you can see the mountains on Skye.
The snow See The Basics and my TR but good when I was there â€“ starting at the level of the Restaurant. The deepest snow is usually in the back corries.
Off piste See â€śTerrainâ€ť above but when snow is good there are also off-piste options between lifts on the front â€“ particularly to skiers' right of Summit tow and and Goose.
Resort Fort William is a rather dour place with many grey stone buildings and an old castle you have to hunt for. The centre has been bypassed with a big road between the town and sea and several roundabouts â€“ one built on top of the eponymous fort (some remains still visible beside it) built originally by Cromwell but named after William III.
Nevisport at the north end of the High Street is the largest ski shop and has a good lunch and tea room on the first floor with a bookshop, and a pub underneath.
Food Hot and cold food (eg chicken curry, chile con carne, mutton pies, sandwitches, cakes) and hot and cold drinks at the top of the access gondola.
At fort William there is a very good fish restaurant, called Crannog right on the sea edge (tiny with orange roof) ÂŁ40 each with wine and well worth it. There is also a lovely new award-winning Hotel the Lime Tree, with an award-winning restaurant by the first roundabout (coming from the south). Also Indian and Chinese restaurants etc. (and see Nevis Sport above)
Accommodation Fort William has a few hotels (including the grand â€śInverlochy Castleâ€ť) and many B & Bs, especially on the road in from the south. But see the Lime Tree mentioned above. It is run by a mountain guide / stuntman who also paints. It is ÂŁ40-55 - plus dinner - per person in a double or twin. See also North Ballachulich (between Glencoe and Fort William) and Speen Bridge (North of Nevis Range)
Costs Getting up there is not cheap â€“ you could fly to Glasgow airport and hire a car, or go up by overnight sleeper â€“ which is expensive (a one or 2 berth sleeping compartment with breakfast doubles the price). Driving up from London takes about 9 Â˝ hours, or 10 hours with a meal stop.
B & B is quite cheap (my single â€“ in a twin room â€“ cost me ÂŁ25, but many are a bit more). A day ticket for the slopes is ÂŁ24
Conclusion If you live in Scotland or can go up at short notice when the snow is good it can be very good fun. Good weather such as I mostly had should be seen as a bonus as it can be bleak. Donâ€™t expect an Alpine size ski area or a proper ski resort close to the lifts, but these are real mountains with substantial challenges for those who are adventurous.
My photos: http://www.snowmediazone.com/the_zone/showphoto.php/photo/11907
Nevis Range Resort Report Feedback Thread
NEVIS BACK CORRIES detailed TR
Edit: For good piste map click on http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/winter/mountain/map.asp
(photos off my phone so not high quality)
I drove to Fort William on Friday and found a B & B at ÂŁ25 on the seafront â€“ one of a long string of them on the southern road in.
The next morning I kitted up and realized I had left my boots in the front hall at home. Luckily I discovered that Nevis lift station rents them and, against all expectations â€“ after trying 7 pairs - I found some that were OK if I did them up tight.
Andrew (â€śJungleâ€ť on Winterhighlands website and a regular ski companion) met me, and discovered Craig, someone he had met while doing steep gullys solo on Ben Nevis, who was also kitting up in the carpark. We were told there was some new snow up top.
The 3 of us, together with daveqpr, did a couple of runs on the goose (is that a couple of geese?) and fresh tracks down Warrens a few times, and then went over the back.
The top of the mountain was in thick cloud and the cornices large so we decided to start with Backtrack. Entering the steepish and deeply cut traverse completely blind was rather unnerving.
Returning to the top we then trecked for about a quarter of an hour along the crest to the right to Summit Gully. It was in dead flat light but we made first tracks down it, and then the cloud lifted for the highly scenic descent down the long valley ending at the bottom of the Braveheart Lift.
Braveheart was still closed so we had a bite to eat (I relying, Iâ€™m afraid, on stuff the others had brought). During this the lift started, at first almost imperceptibly and then a bit faster (its normal speed). Only one person is now allowed on each double chair or it breaks down â€“ did I mention this lift is called Braveheart?
There was no Liftie: should we get on? Craig phoned the lift office. The lift stopped. â€śNo, noâ€ť he was told, â€śthis is just a test, you canâ€™t get onâ€ť. â€śThere are a dozen of us down here nowâ€ť. After a pause the lift started again and a liftie skied down: â€śOK, weâ€™re openingâ€ť.
In the afternoon daveqpr left us, not fancying another treck to Summit Gully. This time we crossed to the further bowl - and then we did Chancer on the main back bowl. The cornice was large, and the entry required a jump in.
All the back corries entries are steep to varying degrees, but Chancer is the steepest of those on the piste map. I decided to try an entry from 20metres further up the ridge, the very top of the slope, which nobody had tried. I could only see the slope by leaning out.
Edit: just seen this fantastic picture on Winterhighlands.
It was very, very steep, starting vertical and landing on a slope of, I think, over 50Âş. I thought Iâ€™d landed it but trying to turn across the slope my heels skidded away and I did a yard-sale. Despite the hard snow under the sprinkling of new stuff the steepness made it hard to climb back up to my skis and even harder to put them on. I thought Iâ€™d managed it finally but when I started to ski they both came off again.
or see this much better photo from what...snow
In the evening Andrew and I went to the Crannog fish restaurant on the seafront. I had halibut on a bed of leaks with a delicate cream and Pernod sauce. Andrew had local langoustines with herb and garlic butter. ÂŁ40 each for 3 courses with coffee and a good wine â€“ but certainly worth it.
The next day was similar, a sprinkling of new snow and occasional glimpses of sun but often the top obscured by cloud. Braveheart again opened. We did 2 more Summit gulleys (the first time blundering around in thick cloud trying to find it) but heard that Easy Gully (ironic title for the hardest of the main entries â€“ not on the piste map) was icy and pockmarked by climbers boots so gave it a miss. We did Chancer again (I took the normal entry this time). We thought we would try Spikes near the end of the day, since the snow had softened (it involved a jump in off a cornice and the snow had been harder than on Summit gully) but decided we couldnâ€™t do it before Braveheart closed, which would have meant a long climb out.
On the Monday the others had all gone home and I was expecting an anticlimax, especially as there was no hope that Braveheart would open, however it turned out the best day of the lot. I met a Scot called Stuart in the car-park who had never skied Nevis but had skins with him (as I did) and wanted to explore the back corries.
The sun was bright and there had been some new snow to fill the old tracks but it started poorly. The warm, churned up snow from the day before had frozen into hard rubble over which we rattled, first down the Goose and then the lowest run down the back which starts from the top of Warrens tow (I think it's called Winger Wall). However the snow soon warmed up and things got better and better as the day went on. I showed Stuart Summit Gully and it was positively enjoyable walking there on skins in the sun with huge views in every direction.
We made first tracks all the way down and returning to Braveheart, which was closed, as we had expected, found that the walk out was only 10 minutes to a point half way up the lift where we could traverse out.
So of course, we had to do it again in the afternoon. Someone had dug a loop-shaped trench (called a Bollard) to hold the top of a rope as they lowered themselves into Easy Gully.
This time I entered further left (as you look down) and, except for our own, we saw only one other track in the valley.
(This is Stuart with Spikes top left and Easy Gully entry top right in the slight cleft.)
We also noticed a big off-piste area to the left of the Goose and Summit tows (as you look up) with enough snow and only a few tracks (and a few rocks to avoid) which we skied twice top to bottom (see map). As you converged with Goose gully near the bottom you just traversed right a couple of times and started another pitch.
Stuart said goodby and I finished by jumping in to the right of Backtrack, all alone on the backbowl, and traversed out in superb softened snow to find all the lifts closed. A marvellous end to my last ski of the season.
I started home through Glencoe and beyond feeling exhilarated, the sunny mountains looking glorious with ribbons of snow reaching down between the rocks to the crushed-velvet mossy greens of the slopes and lower down the deep dark green of pines and the orange of budding birch twigs.
Notes on the Back Corries.
(map squares are 1 km)
(Please bear in mind that you shouldnâ€™t go exploring here in bad visibility as there are high cliffs to fall off and many extremely steep slopes. Much of it is off-piste where the normal caveats apply, and very few people ski there who could rescue you.)
To access the main back bowl turn left at the top of the Summit tow and follow the line of poles which diverge slightly right from the pisted path. You will arrive at Chancer the highest and steepest entry point. Beware, most of the bowl edge usually has a cornice. Backtrack is an easier traverse in, at the lower end of the bowl.
If you do neither and continue down you will arrive at the top of Warrens T bar and the path you originally diverged from. Continuing down the ridge bear immediately right where you will find yet another, usually slightly easier, entry to the back (I think called Winger Wall) , separated from the main bowl by a rocky bulge.
If you ski the main bowl and Braveheart chair is not running you cannot ski down the line of the chair unless you are prepared to climb out half way (ie the steeper part).
To exit the bowl you must turn left (anywhere between level with the top of Braveheart and about 1/4 down it) and traverse out. It is about a mile of traversing and occasional small slopes to ski around to the lifts on the front. You can use a small beginnersâ€™ draglift (before the final path beside a chairlift) if you get a bit too low.
To reach the off-piste entries into the back corries turn right at the top of the summit tow (by the ski patrol hut). Except for the first bit slightly uphill, most of the walk along the wide ridge is flat.
Walk parallel to the cliff edge till you reach Easy Gully, after which the cliff edge turns sharply away from you. Easy gully is extreme skiing, involving a jump onto a steep slope or an extremely steep forward travelling side-slip (about 60Âş?). Below the entry is a short gulley with rock sides which opens onto a huge slope about 500 yards wide and with a vertical drop of over 1,000ft.
Watch out, the cliff edge directly behind the gulley is currently about 6 metres back from the snow edge which is breaking away from it. Better to avoid walking on it.
From Easy gulley head a bit to the right of the slight hump ahead. Passing this you will see in the far distance ahead some rocks which mark the entry to Summit gulley. However, if instead you go left you will find the edge curves back towards you after the cliff-promontory and gets lower.
This section is not a cliff but Spikes, which is a wide steep slope, usually with a cornice entry. Currently the least cornice is near the left end, but the snow is harder than at Summit Gulley, which is somewhat easier skiing.
The rocks and slight bump on the left of the ridge (almost level with the summit Cairn of Aaonach Mor) mark the Summit gulley entry. You can do a short, steep traverse under it, from a dip just before, which will bring you onto a short snowy spine. Either turn left into the obvious bowl or continue the traverse into the next bowl. Alternatively you can enter about 40 or 50 yards further left (as you look down). I gather you can also go beyond the rocks and bump and access directly into the second bowl. In any case, after the first few turns these are all relatively easy and most enjoyable slopes with a vertical of about 850 ft.
Emerging from the Gully either follow the middle of the valley down very gentle slopes towards a wide dip ahead and then a nice wide gully, (or perhaps, even better keeping slightly higher to the left for another short, steeper slope) continuing down the valley, keeping always left of the stream for a total run of about 2 km till you see the bottom of Braveheart chair just above you to the left.
Alternatively after the Summit gully turn immediate left, traversing as high as possible around the slopes below Spikes and down into the bowl below Easy gully. Watch out if the weather has been warm - there is a Lochain (small lake) at the bottom of the bowl. Keep right of it then keep high left. You will eventually join the other route. There are several alternatives and no great problems if you take another way.
If instead you keep to the right out of the Summit Gulley till you reach the col you can climb up the left of the ridge ahead and ski the obvious big slopes from the top.
(by Easy Gully)
Edit: I just had these from Craig: Easy Gully the next weekend when he skied it:
click to enlarge
and looking back at it:
That's a 1,000ft vertical slope.
PS I skied Easy Gully twice on my next visit in 2012. You can enter most easily from the furthest left where the cornice is smallest, though on that particular year we were also able to enter from the furthest right. Only extreme daredevils jump off the cornice - I wouldn't consider it.
Just lobbing another snowball.
Last edited by A snowHead on Mon 17-09-12 10:58; edited 27 times in total