5 Of The Best Steep Skiing Descents In Scotland | Steep Scotland

While many shun Scotland in favour of the Alps, we argue the opposite with our pick of the best steep skiing descents in Scotland

When, in 1982, Chamonix mountain guide Jean Franck Charlet left the steep skiing capital of the world in the middle of winter, he wasn’t heading to the Greater Ranges for an unskied Himalayan line. No, he was heading to Scotland to sample some of the finest steep skiing in the world. On Ben Nevis.

Helped by the late, great Hamish MacInnes, Jean Franck had hoped to film the spectacle live for the BBC. While Jean Franck’s BBC documentary was a washout, the guide established a first descent down Good Friday Climb; a hair-raisingly steep climbing route that, quite literally, falls off the north face of Ben Nevis.

“There has been a huge boom in steep skiing in Scotland over the past 10 – 20 years”

Although Jean Franck’s feat remains unrepeated to this day, there has been a huge boom in steep skiing and ski touring in Scotland over the past 10 – 20 years. This is partly thanks to new developments in touring equipment, a few good snow years and the birth of what is probably one of the most vibrant and exciting ski scenes out there.

“But you can drive to the Alps in the same amount of time” and “Scotland’s too windy”. People are always quick to slam Scottish skiing, without ever having experienced what it really has to offer. And, to be fair, these people have probably booked their trip months in advance, taken one look at the questionable forecast, and written Scotland off. Their loss, I say. More ‘wind-packed powder’ for us.

Photo: Niall McPherson in one of the descents that didn’t make the cut – the north face of Stob Ban. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

With all this in mind, we’ve got our selection of five of the best steep descents in Scotland. Now, before all the gully skiing ultras jump into the comments section bashing me for only including five, I think it’s important to stress that this is a deliberately brief list. Just an appetizer to whet the appetite of the uninitiated, if you like.

“If you’re new to Scottish gully skiing, then do yourself a favour and grab yourself Kenny Biggin’s brilliant guidebooks”

If you’re new to Scottish gully skiing, then do yourself a favour and grab yourself Kenny Biggin’s brilliant guidebooks on the Nevis area and Glencoe (linked below). Kenny has gone to great lengths to provide accurate, detailed and inspiring route descriptions for (almost) every line worth doing in each region.

Photo: Kenny Biggin’s guidebooks are a great way to get inspiration and plan trips. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Get swotting up on wind patterns, snow and the extremely nuanced language that is Scottish conditions. Prepare for ‘wind packed powder’ to become the next champagne pow and surviving an icy scratchy gully to be a great “day oot!”

As you can see, all these descents are gully (couloir) lines; and this is for good reason. Thanks to the prevailing southwesterly winds, these predominantly NW – NE facing descents load up during the winter season. When spring arrives, you’re left with some impressive snow depths in these sheltered gullies that’ll  last well into May – June (depending on the season, of course).

“Enjoy Scotland when it’s safe to do so. You’re going to have a blast”

With all this in mind, enjoy Scotland when it’s safe to do so. You’re going to have a blast. Safe skiing.

Disclaimer: If you’re planning to ski any of these descents, then please ensure you do so in the stable conditions, with the correct equipment (transceiver shovel and probe), partners and correct training to perform avalanche rescue.

Unsure if your skiing is up to scratch to take on these gullies, or how to assess snowpack conditions? A local mountain / ski guide will happily show you. A local guide will also be able to introduce you to the world of Scottish steep skiing, while giving you tips on how to ski steeps. We’ve linked to a few of our favourites below.

This guide has also been written assuming good snow conditions on the descents – they’re obviously going to increase in difficulty if you find them in icy conditions.

One final note: We must stress that this is not an article that’s saying you should all head up to the Highlands en masse. It is, instead, an inspirational piece to keep fire burning for all of those not lucky enough to live in the mountains, ready for when we are able to safely travel to the hills.

Gavin Carruthers skiing the exposed top section of Tower Gully. Photo: Blair Aitken
Hamish Frost in Observatory Gully, with Tower Gully behind. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Tower Gully, Ben Nevis

Quality: 9/10
Exposure: 10/10
Difficulty: 7/10

We couldn’t start this list without a ski from the summit of the UK. Hidden away just 200 metres from the summit of Ben Nevis, Tower Gully is one of the finest, most gripping and atmospherically epic ski descents in Scotland. As much as we could rave on about the quality of Tower Gully, we’re also keen to stress that it shouldn’t be underestimated. 

While Tower Gully is a steep gully, particularly at the top, the main seriousness of it comes from the exposure below. Sitting below Tower Gully (and directly below the fall line from the top of the gully) is Tower Scoop – a 80 metre cliff band that you definitely don’t want to go over. This exposure means that the top section is an absolute no fall zone. There’s no room for errors here and, for that reason, you want good conditions and a good number of steep descents under your belt before you even think about skiing this gully.

No fall zones aside, Tower Gully offers one of the longest gully descents in Scotland, even late on in a good snow year (I’ve skied fresh snow in Tower Gully in June). In fact, just like all other gullies in this list, it’s best to wait till spring before skiing these gullies. Come spring, cornices sag and the snowpack becomes that bit more stable, making these beasts much more manageable.

Pete MacKenzie standing on Aladdin's Col. Photo: Hamish Frost
Aladdin's holding great snow in May 2013. Photo: Doug Bryce

Aladdin’s Couloir, Coire an t-Sneachda

Quality: 9/10
Exposure: 8/10
Difficulty: 6/10

Heading east over to the Cairngorms, Aladdin’s Couloir snakes its way through the cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda. Starting as a wide open gully at the top, you soon reach a col (Aladdin’s Seat) that splits the gully.

It’s worth mentioning that you MUST take the skiers right hand exit of this col. If you go left, then you’re going to quickly find yourself in some extremely serious terrain – Aladdin’s Mirror. While Aladdin’s Mirror has been skied many times, it requires ideal conditions, perfect technique and great knowledge of the area, so it’s best to get a few seasons of Scottish steep skiing under your belt before even considering it.

Once you take the right hand exit, the rocky walls of Aladdin’s Couloir soon close up around you, creating an aesthetically stunning couloir. There’s a dog-leg midway through the couloir, then after that the couloir opens out onto the apron slopes below. Depending on the snow conditions, you’ll be able to ski/skate all the way back to Cairngorm Mountain car park. Did someone say “second lap?”

Rob Kingsland skiing Spring corn on Summit Gully, Stob Coire Nam Beith. Photo: Hamish Frost

Summit Gully, Stob Coire nam Beith

Quality: 9/10
Exposure: 8/10
Difficulty: 9/10

While researching and preparing this article I had initially chosen Broad Gully on Stob Coire nan Lochan to be featured for the Glencoe line. After sharing my initial selection to a few friends, it’s safe to say that I was swifty shot down by the real Scottish steep skiing connoisseurs, who instead suggested this peach of a line.

Sitting just behind Broad Gully on the summit (funnily enough) of Stob Coire nam Beith, Summit Gully is quite possibly one of the classic steep descents in Glencoe. While it may be seriously steep, inaccessible and tricky to get in condition, when you do manage to find this in a good state, you’re left with a gem of a descent.

Be aware: this gully requires good snow years to fill in the steep rocky or icy pitches that pepper the gully. Make sure you’re prepared to cross/downclimb these sections and have climbed up the gully before planning to ski it.

Looking up at one of the steep pitches of Bold Rush, west face of Aonach Mor. Photo Neil Flemming

West Face of Aonach Mor

Quality: 8/10
Exposure: 6/10
Difficulty: 6/10

There’s a wealth of steep skiing options accessible from the comforts of Nevis Range – Fort William’s local ski resort. With the Back Corries offering endless possibilities for steep skiing practice, without the need for touring equipment. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the resort favourite Easy Gully. It may be ‘easy’ for the climbers who named it, but it’s certainly no pushover for skiers.

While there’s loads to go at over on the ‘frontside’ of Nevis Range, we were keen to include a descent down the back (west) face of Aonach Mor. This west face is wild and remote, and thanks to it’s convex entrance slopes, it’s extremely tricky to get a look into the corridors that cut down the west face.

Because of the slightly more wild nature of the west face, and tricky return back to Nevis Range, they rarely see many descents – certainly much less than the ‘main’ gullies on the north east faces. Those willing to put in that extra bit of effort are however going to be rewarded with some of the finest gully skiing in Scotland.

Passing the debris found within Fuselage Gully (the deep snow had buried the propeller). Photo: Hamish Frost

Fuselage Gully, Beinn Eighe

Quality: 9/10
Exposure: 7/10
Difficulty: 7/10

On the evening of the 13th March 1951, a Lancaster bomber departed from RAF Kinloss while performing a training flight. Just ten minutes away from landing back at base, and flying in horrendous conditions, the bomber collided into Beinn Eighe, just fifteen metres below the summit. All crew members sadly lost their life.

Some of the wreckage of this bomber was pushed into a northwest facing gully on the side of Beinn Eighe. Sporting debris from the Lancaster in the middle, this gully soon became known as Fuselage Gully.

Fuselage Gully begins as a wide bowl in its top section before the gully quickly tightens into one of the most beautifully situated ski descents in Scotland. When you’re in the gully proper, you’ll soon reach the most obvious part of the Lancaster wreckage – one of the propellers. This propeller is wedged above a short rocky step and offers an ideal anchor to rappel down this step.

Once you’re past the step, the gully opens back out bringing you onto the apron slopes of Coire Mhic Fhearchair.

Mountain Forecasting

The Scottish Information Service

The Mountain Weather Information Service

Met Office

Route Planning

Walk Highlands

View Ranger


Harvey Maps

British Backcountry Facebook Group


Winter Highland

Steven Fallon Mountain Adventures


SMC Ski Mountaineering Guide

Winter Sun 

Steep Scotland

Get The Book

As we touched on in the introduction, Kenny Biggin has written two fantastic books detailing (almost) every ski descent in both Glencoe and the Nevis Range, complete with excellent imagery and detailed descriptions. You can buy the books here. We can’t really stress enough how much these books are essential viewing for anyone looking to ski the steeps up in Scotland.


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