Scotland

Skiing in Scotland: a family-friendly guide to the snowy slopes

It’s closer and certainly wilder than The Alps but what does Scotland have to offer for families in search of snow, and what is there to do après-ski to keep the little ones entertained?

We’re sheltering under Coronation Wall at the top of Cairngorm Mountain when a rare patch of sunshine illuminates the view. White snow trails down the hillside giving way to the earthy tones of heather and gorse, as moorland tumbles towards the shores of Loch Morlich in the valley below.

Seconds later and it’s gone, snatched away by a dense mist and flurries of snow that envelope the mountain and swirl at our feet.

Leaving the sanctuary of the wall, we set off down the meticulously groomed piste. Our two young girls are buffeted every which way by the howling wind but find it wildly funny. This is skiing in Scotland – raw, exciting, unpredictable and like nothing you’ll find in the Alps.

Skiing in Scotland

The Highlands of Scotland are an exciting overnight train ride away from central London – a magical way to start a family ski holiday. An increasingly popular place for snow seekers, there are many reasons for head north of the border, not least the welcome that families get on the slopes. What’s more, the season can last for an age; by mid-April most European resorts have closed their lifts and shut up shop but in the Highlands it’s not unusual to be skiing with the little ones in the late May sunshine.

There are five ski areas in the Highlands: Cairngorm; Glencoe; Glenshee; The Lecht; and Nevis Range. And whilst brave and intrepid skiers could combine all five in one long road trip most families prefer to stay put. Lessons and lift passes are more budget-friendly than on the continent and hiring equipment is a cinch. But most striking is the warm attitude to children and the vast array of things to do should the weather come in and skiing be off the menu - from reindeers to bike hire and woodland walks, boredom is rarely on the cards.

Family skiing at Cairngorm Mountain, Scotland

On the snow

Cairngorm’s first chairlift was built in 1961 and dedicated skiers have been coming here ever since. Home to Scotland’s only funicular railway, it lies amongst some of the nation’s highest mountains. With 11 lifts and 30km of skiing, there’s plenty of terrain. For children, the gentle beginners’ area is situated right next to the funicular where you’ll also find Scotland’s highest restaurant – an ideal spot for hot chocolate.

Off the snow

Visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd to see Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer. Intrepid explorers can head up in to the hills to see them in the wild. Alternatively, visit The Paddocks (open daily Feb-Dec) where children can see the reindeers up close. The School of Snowsports at the Hilton Coylumbridge (see below) offers dry skiing, bike hire, a climbing wall and tubing!

Hotels in Aviemore

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A ski hotel in Scotland with two swimming pools

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Opened in 1965 by the Duke of Edinburgh the Hilton Coylumbridge is the closest hotel to Cairngorm Mountain. Set in the valley below the resort and surrounded by tranquil pine forests – home to buzzards and highland birds – its location is hard to beat.

There’s a range of room options for families, from suites to connecting rooms, and kids under five eat free. In the hotel grounds you’ll find a small spa, an adventure playground and the ‘The fun house’ complete with soft play, arcades and crazy golf. And there are two swimming pools – one for sensible swimmers and the other for kids, complete with a slide and permission to splash.

Hotel Hilton Coylumbridge

Aviemore, 2.1 km to Aviemore Train Station
7.7 Good (2647 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.8 / 10
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A family ski break in Scotland’s Glencoe resort

On the snow

Spanning 200 hectares of Highland terrain in the Meall a’ Bhuiridh Massif basin, Glencoe has some of the best natural skiing in Scotland. Boasting views over the pyramidal peak of Buchaile Etive Mor, it has 20 runs and eight lifts, including the longest run in Scotland. Children can enjoy the gentle runs on the plateau and on special occasions a junior chairlift passes is free. Conditions in March are said to be the best for families, when the winds are calmer.

Off the snow

Glencoe resort runs a fabulous range of children’s activities from igloo building to snowman competitions and Zibob (sledging) races. When it’s too cold outside head to The Plateau Café on the mountain for hot chocolate. For a change of scene, visit the award-winning eco-friendly Glencoe Visitor Centre (open from March), with its viewing platform and café. At around a mile long the signposted ‘Glencoe Woodland Walks’ are ideal for kids.

Hotels in Glencoe

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A ski hotel in Scotland overlooking Loch Leven

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The Glencoe Inn in Glencoe village is set in vast grounds overlooking the glistening waters of Loch Leven. Warm, friendly and full of character there’s plenty of space for children to run free in the grounds of this cosy inn. Room options include the ‘Adventurous Family Room’ with bunk beds and a double bed, triple rooms and additional beds. After a hard day on the snow tuck into afternoon tea on the deck overlooking the Loch, and for dinner tuck into local fayre at the ‘posh’ chippy.

The Glencoe Inn

7.6 Good (579 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.6 / 10
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Glenshee - a Scottish ski resort for all the family

On the snow

Glenshee in north eastern Scotland boasts the UK’s largest lift system and is the biggest of the country’s resorts. Its 36 lifts extend over four mountains within the Cairngorms national park and there’s something for every skier, from the reds and blacks on Glas Maol at the end of the resort, to the gentle nursery slopes close to the ticket office. The Rock Hopper club entertains children from three and for more confident and gung-ho kids the snow park, in Bitchart’s Coire, has rails and jumps.

Off the snow

The drive to Glenshee is spectacular and worth experiencing even if you don’t ski. When the wind gets up or you need a break there are three cafes on the mountain; two on the slopes – Cairnwell Café and Meall ODhar Café – and the Base Café at bottom. Bike Station Ballater offer adults and kids’ bikes to hire – try the family run along the Deeside way line to the Burn O Vat, a deep hole gorged out of the rock by a Highland stream.

Hotels in Ballater

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A ski hotel in Scotland with an adventure playground

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Hilton Grand Vacations at Craigendarroch Suites in Ballater is a luxurious country house built in 1891 with the profits of a marmalade empire. (Former owner James Keiller was the first to export the orange jam around the world).

An ideal base for families of all ages, it’s a 40-minute drive from Glenshee. There are two gorgeous swimming pools, including a toddlers’ pool, an adventure playground, a games room and a tennis court. Families are accommodated in a variety of rooms and suites and there are activities for children most days. The kids’ menu features ‘scrumptious mains’ including a Craigendarroch burger made with local highland beef. And for parents, the Keillers lounge serves grown up food for when the little ones are in bed.

Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Craigendarroch Suites

Top rated
8.6 Excellent (354 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.2 / 10
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Family-friendly skiing in The Lecht, 2090

On the snow

Situated in the eastern Cairngorms at 645m above sea level, The Lecht is one of Scotland’s smallest resorts. Great for families, it has just 20km of pistes yet caters for all ages and abilities of skier. In the Penguin Park, where you’ll also find dragons and snowmen, children as young as two can have fun in the snow. A magic carpet lift takes the stress out of getting little ones up the mountain and the lower slopes are short and gentle – ideal for kids and beginners.

Off the snow

Lecht 2090 lies at the top of a mountain pass between Tomintoul and Strathdon and has a view that’s hard to match. If skiing is off the cards hole up with a hot chocolate in the Alpine Lodge bar at the Lecht Day Lodge or try your hand at sledging. For a change of scene head to Corgaff Castle, a medieval castle once home to whiskey smugglers.

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A ski hotel in Scotland with apartments and cottages

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Set within the grounds of the MacRobert Estate, newly refurbished Douneside House is a country house that welcomes families in a range of rooms, apartments and cottages, many with direct access to the 17-acre grounds. The stunning new health club features a 12.5-metre swimming pool, games room and all-weather tennis court and outside there’s a children’s playground.

Douneside House

9.0 Excellent (81 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
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The Nevis Range - ski with the kids in the Scottish Highlands

On the snow

Situated on the northern slopes of 1121m-high Aonach Mor, The Nevis Range boasts the UK’s only mountain gondola, which makes getting there half the fun. Ten minutes from Fort William and situated in the shadows of Ben Nevis, this small resort offers spectacular scenery and excellent skiing. There are child-friendly runs near the gondola station (with cute names like ‘rabbit run’ and ‘bunny hop’) and small fun park for young daredevils too.

Off the snow

The gondola is a popular attraction and the sky-high ride is worth it, even if you’re not heading to the slopes. There’s a dedicated sledging area just to the side of the Snowgoose Restaurant and if you’re visiting in spring, the ‘Tree Adventure’ near the base of the gondola is a park of high ropes and obstacles that will keep adventurous children busy. The Lochaber Leisure Centre in Fort William has a pool and water slide.

Hotels in Glencoe

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A ski hotel in Scotland surrounded by snow-capped mountains

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The Isles of Glencoe hotel is a honey pot for outdoorsy families and around a 40-minute drive from The Nevis Range. On the shores of Loch Leven and enveloped by snow-capped mountains, the hotel has a pool and is well versed in making little ones feel at home. Family rooms feature bunk beds in a separate alcove – look out for special family offers on mid-week breaks when kids stay free!

On the doorstep you’ll find walking trails and an abundance of wildlife, and a little further afield the Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express aka the Jacobite steam train – the 84-mile round trip is said to be one of the best railway journeys in the world. Back at the hotel tuck into locally-sourced steak and chips in the hotel restaurant before collapsing in front of an open fire.

Isles Of Glencoe

7.7 Good (1791 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.3 / 10
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Author

Susannah Osborne

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