"I peer over the cornice into the steep and twisting gully below. Picking my line, I push off, skis struggling to bite into the late-season slush. The first turn – always the worst – goes without a hitch, and I relax and start to enjoy the scenery of the Black Spout. As the left hand branch turns into the gully proper, the angle eases and I give my skis a bit of exercise. In an exhilarating flash, I am down at the loch with no more snow to ski. Not bad for a school night."
"excellent ski descents...where you are rewarded with a smile on every turn"
Picture the scene, you are queuing with 200 other people at the White Lady T bar, you reckon that it will take at least 45 minutes for your turn, only to spend five minutes skiing picking your way through the giant moguls to join the line again. Your girlfriend scowls. Does this sound like a familiar day on the Scottish slopes?
Scottish skiing however does not need to be like this, and for those prepared to put in a bit of effort to get themselves to the top of the mountain, excellent ski descents can be had, descents where you are rewarded with a smile on every turn.
Enjoying the very best Scotland has to offer on Aonach Beag (skier Alasdair Reid) See larger pic
In the past few years ski touring equipment has evolved and today’s lightweight equipment is easy on your lungs on the way up the mountain, and easy on your legs on the way down, being much easier to ski through crust and numerous other delightful snow conditions that Scotland has to offer.
So you are a keen skier and you want to explore that little bit further. What will you need? Well it is perfectly reasonable to use normal Alpine equipment and to carry the lot on your back, although you have to walk up the hill and will be cursing at having to carry the lot. A gadget called an Alpine Trekker will convert any alpine binding into a touring binding where the heel is free to lift but this setup is brutally heavy although it can be very useful if you must have your race skis and bindings for that extreme descent.
"once the preserve of skiing geniuses and Norwegians, telemark skiing seems to gaining massive popularity"
There are some very good skis available which offer low weight and great performance in all snow conditions. Recommended skis include the Atomic Beta Ride 9.22 - lightweight all-rounder; Salomon’s Pocket Rockets - big area freeride ski and the XX Bandit from Rossignol - heavy but with increased performance at high speed.
The Diamir Fritschi touring binding really is the only choice for the discerning ski mountaineer. It is the only touring binding which has a lateral toe release and comes in at a keen 1.35kg. There are two models available - the standard and the freeride which has stronger release springs and riser plates to increase the height of boot from the ski for better carving.
Pete Benson putting in turns at the top of Gully No. 4 on Ben Nevis
Pic: Alasdair Reid See larger pic
For true ski mountaineer there is telemark or free-heel skiing where the boot flexes at the ball of the foot. Although once the preserve of skiing geniuses and Norwegians, telemark skiing seems to gaining massive popularity both for piste bashers and tourers alike. Plastic boot technology has revolutionised telemark skiing but still leaves some traditionalists scratching their beards. This performance does come at a cost - the evil enemy of all ski mountaineers - weight.
One interesting ski, which was developed by Atomic for snow boarders is the Freetrek. This small 90cm ski comes with a lightweight binding and is great for those who just want to go for a walk with a pair of skis or to access winter routes. The Freetreks are relatively easy to ski once you get your weight distribution right, although they require a subtle technique even for a good skier. Page 1>2>Fact File>