I must start by saying I owe a huge debt of thanks for this trip to Scottish Roxy rider Lesley McKenna. In Laax a couple of weeks back she came over and whispered in a conspiratorial manner: “There is heaps of snow in Scotland. It’s the best it’s been in years and I reckon I can get you the hookups in the town of Aviemore and its ski resort Cairngorm…" Sadly Lesley had to bounce to Verbier and therefore couldn’t actually show our crew round her manor, but we also had the good fortune of local boy done good Angus Leith and fellow equally-done-good-though-not-so-local Scot Ben Kilner to take us round the Cairngorm resort today. But once again, thanks Lesley! Aviemore itself is ingrained in the history of British snowboarding, being the spot to which many of the first riders on this island gravitated to get on the rad, spending seasons in caravans and partying in the sadly deceased Chevvy’s bar. If conditions were good, it was time for Onboard to pay homage.
Myself and photo ed Sami arrived in Edinburgh yesterday and hooked up with Swedes Chris Sörman and Tobias Karlsson, loaded the rental and booted straight up the 120-odd miles to Aviemore. None of us had ever been to Scotland before and, frankly, we were all blown away by the beauty of the landscape on the drive up. Castles, lakes, old school stone buildings, sheep… all bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun. Scotland, we like!
So, fresh as the air we can fill our lungs with after a good night’s kip in the fine queen-sized beds from which I type, we hooked up with Angus and Ben and headed up the mountain. My first impression was that Cairngorm reminded me of Riksgränsen: narrow, somewhat randomly laid out runs (compared to the motorways of the Alps) with a bunch of fences all over the place and slightly antiquated lifts. The best part for me was going up the fairly recently built funicular train to the top, with the driver dude telling everyone about the conditions, what runs were open and cracking the odd joke. I can’t see that happening in Tignes… The weather up here is a fickle mistress to say the least, and though ‘the best it’s been in years’ for the Scottish highlands doesn’t really compare to a good day in, say, Arlberg, but for me one of the joys of snowboarding is getting the shred on in more novel locations that the usual beaten track, meat and potatoe places.
The weather was Ok, but not as good as the day before but all was good as today was really just about scoping spots to hit up from tomorrow onwards. A couple of times the hurtling clouds would break for a while and bathe the resort in bluebird, while other times it lived up to its stereotype and was greybird with the biting wind stinging your cheeks.
Angus has a mate who drives the cat here so a call was made and, after looking at where they were trying to build us something but deciding it wouldn’t work, we decided to try to beef up one of the booters in the Vans park, that’s looked after by one of British snowboarding’s cognoscenti – Jonny Barr. While the debate about the first spot was going on though, Kilner and I decided to hike a ridge to check out the conditions by a small windlip. Ben is young and fit; I am older and fatter, but he was patient with my ever increasing breaks to ‘admire the view’. But the view was certainly admirable, especially as we neared the top and could see over the back to where the mountains became less the rounded peaks of the resort proper and more the alpine gnarl that you’d associate with mainland Europe. Jeremy Jones, if you’re reading this, you should come over here and hike to ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. I have a feeling it might be your cup of tea, sir.
We finished our first day riding the Scottish highlands by checking out some more spots in a dicey, wind-loaded bowl that we might be able to do something in if the locals think it’s safe. Wow, I’ve written heaps so to wrap up the Scotblog day 1: First impressions of the place? Well, the scenery is epic – kinda like mini NZ – and while the terrain is not loaded with immediately obvious features, there’s stuff to do for sure. But the vibe here is great, the people super friendly and helpful and so hopefully we can get the goods in the next few days so we can go hunt for the Loch Ness monster and tour whiskey distilleries. Happy days.