Scotland’s ski industry was facing challenges even before the Coronavirus shutdown. Optimism remains high for next season despite concerns around climate change.
By Phil Taylor
Just like many industries around the world at the moment the ski industry is no different to any other. A country that has felt the impact of Coronavirus has been Scotland where there was a sudden drop in attendance and ultimately full closures of slopes. With the closures came lack of financial gain and the question of whether the slopes will be able to reopen the following season.
Normally people look further afield to ski than Scotland with the likes of France, Andorra, Austria, and Italy the usual hot spots for snow searching tourists. However, they are missing out on some amazing skiing experiences, especially between November and April when you can get snowfalls that can rival any other European country.
The main resorts include Glencoe Mountain and the Nevis Range in the West, Cairngorm Mountain near Aviemore in the central Highlands and The Lecht and Glenshee in the East. These are incredibly popular with tourists from Europe and beyond, not just day visitors from Scotland’s Central Belt. With Scotland boasting plenty of attractions near their ski resorts, they are perfect for bringing in money to businesses away from the ski slopes.
The Scottish ski industry supports over 600 jobs and the industry can generate millions in a season. In 2018 it was estimated that the snow sports industry brought in £31 million in revenue for the country.
At first, the Coronavirus shutdown in Europe was seen as an opportunity for the Scottish ski resorts, even though it was an opportunity born of unfortunate circumstances. For example, Andy Taylor from Rutherglen set his ambitions on skiing in Cairngorm. He stated, “I had booked this week off and decided that the mountains were probably as safe a place to be as anywhere. I drove my campervan up here and I am staying in that for the week.”
The thought was shared by Pieter du Pon, director of the Lecht Ski Company Ltd, as he planned to keep the resort open as long as possible by following the government’s advice.
He stated, “We are trying to stay open and to keep our staff employed.”
“I am also sure there will be parents looking for things to do with children now off school where at least they can all arrive in their own car, walk a very short distance to the slopes and generally be out in the open air enjoying themselves.”
However, with the coronavirus lockdown also caught up with the Scottish resorts in late March. Although not initially enforced by the government the companies all took the decision to close their doors to avoid large groups meeting up together and spreading the virus any further.
With the coronavirus spreading at a rapid rate many have been left distressed by the whole situation and many people wanted to get away from civilisation as much as possible. They saw the empty ski resorts as an ideal opportunity to go and set up camp there. The Nevis Range centre had to turn away around 30 camper vans of people wanting to use the empty car park as a safe refuge.
All resorts are set to open next winter, still aiming to provide a fantastic opportunity for skiers, but there is speculation as to whether they will be able to open the slopes once more due to missing out on a season when they needed it most.
Even though skiing is considered something of a hidden gem in Scotland it can be very unreliable each winter period as the snow does not fall as consistently as it does in certain areas of Europe and further afield in North America. So, after struggling to secure the best snow that Scotland can offer, the resorts really needed a full winter season in 2019/20 to help boost the industry. It was incredibly hard for Cairngorm who had what were described as “awesome conditions, the best for six years!”
The chair of Ski Scotland, Andy Meldrum is of the same opinion as Cairngorm, “The irony is that we have the best conditions I can ever remember. The snow is four metres deep on the lower slopes and much more than that on the upper slopes.”
The 2018/19 season provided the second worst winter in Scottish ski industry history. Despite storms Dennis and Ciara bringing in plenty of snow in December they also brought in a lot of wind which affected the safety of the slopes. It meant that the only slopes available were the smaller slopes, which sometimes did not adequately challenge the more experienced skier who really wanted to test their skills.
This carried on through to February as snow fall dropped and the weather became incredibly mild with many slopes having to use their smaller ones again. In some cases this led them to close all slopes entirely. The 2018/19 season was a real struggle for all resorts.
Another aspect that the ski industry is looking to deal with is climate change. Experts claim that the ski industry will see inconsistent winters up until 2030. Mike Spencer, Snow Scientist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), states, “For the next 15 years or so we will continue to see increased variability with some years exceedingly snowy and some where we get almost nothing at all but it will continue to be cold enough on and off for snow to fall in Scotland.”
With the unpredictability of snow fall and the impending issue of climate change, the ski industry has turned to snow factories as a way of keeping the industry afloat. The advantage of snow factories in Scotland means that the industry can stay open all year round and keep enthusiasts happy. If they are able to practice all year round they are then more inclined to use the real slopes in Scotland as opposed to travelling abroad.
Despite all these issues the industry remains upbeat and positive about the future of the skiing in Scotland.
There is certainly optimism that the ski industry can survive. It is a tough pill to swallow given that the current season would have been hugely profitable due to the fantastic snow but with the current situation they had no option but to close their slopes.
For now, there is hope that the slopes are able to open next season once the coronavirus situation subsides. ‘Haste ye back’ is no longer just a phrase seen on postcard in Scottish souvenir shop windows, but a phrase on every ski operator’s lips.