Fancy a day shredding real British snow without having to trek up the highlands? You could be in luck.
A new ski resort is set to open up in the south of Scotland this December, just 45 minutes from Glasgow and less than an hour’s drive from the English border.
The project from Lowther Hills Ski Club will see a beginner and intermediate slope open up near Wanlockhead, a popular destination for British skiing back in the 60s and 70s that fell out of favour in the years that followed.
We’re always happy to see another snow spot open up on the mainland, so we caught up with Anjo Abelaira, chairman of the ski club involved, to have a chat about the new resort.
“We’ve got two areas we’ll use to ski in the Lowther Hills,” he said. “One is Leadhills, which a 100m slope for beginners, and then we’ve got something new on Lowther Hill as well.
“We’re bringing a permanent ski tow back to Lowther Hill for the first time since the 70s. It’ll be 600-800m long. There’ll be a clubhouse at the bottom of the slope, and while it’s not going to be built for this winter, there will be a temporary building there this year.
“It is really accessible and that makes it very convenient. The people from Lanark, Dumfries and Biggar in particular live very close, and places on the Central Belt [where the majority of the Scottish population lives] are nearby too.”
Sounds good to us. But how much does it actually snow in the south of Scotland? And won’t the slopes be swarming with shred-hungry skiers if it does pile it down?
“we’re looking into a second lift already so we can improve our capacity and accommodate more people…”
Anjo continued: “The hills are quite low here. We’re 700m high, so around 2,300ft, and we won’t get as much snow as you do in the highlands. The advantage of living right at the bottom of the hill, though, is that when it does snow, we can just go up and open!
“We are just starting out so we do have a capacity. We don’t want to be overcrowded, so that’s one of the reasons we opened a ski club.
“Our structure allows us to give preference to members who pay annual membership – our equivalent to a season pass. The limit on our membership this year is 400 people.
“Midweek when we know that there won’t be many people, we can open to those that aren’t members. We’ll make sure everyone enjoys the day and doesn’t spend too long waiting in a queue.”
The ski centre is the first in Scotland to be community owned, run entirely by volunteers from the nearby villages of Leadhills and Wanlockhead, and all profits generated from the slopes go right back into the project.
So, while it may be a small centre at the minute, there is certainly scope to grow in the years to come – with the possibility of summer time mountain biking also being explored.
“Right now we are just focused on making sure we open in December and taking it one step at a time,” said Anjo.
“We’re looking forward to having a smooth year, making everyone happy, and then we’ll look to improve on what we’ve got.
“We’d like to have a snow groomer for next year, and we’re looking into a second lift already so we can improve our capacity and accommodate more.
“Also, while we’re not marketing it as a mountain resort, we’ve got everything a mountain resort could have. We’ve got the highest golf course in Britain, the highest railway in Scotland, a fishing club and about 40 miles that could be used for mountain biking.
“We’re looking forward to having a smooth year, and then we’ll look to improve on what we’ve got…”
“First though we just want to make sure that we open on time in December and that we have a great season!”
Understandable words from the man looking to secure the future of skiing on the Lowther Hills over 40 years since it was a regular and popular outing.
There is certainly a colourful history behind snow sports in the area. Locals have been riding planks there since the 20s, and in the 50s it was one of the two spots shortlisted to become the first ever Scottish ski resort.
That honour would go to Glencoe in the end, and through the 1960s and 70s, despite failed plans for “chalets and proper ski lifts” on the hills, the southern slopes would still see regular custom.
“In the 1980s,” remembers Anjo. “People were still skiing, and the club had a project for what was the longest artificial ski slope in Europe at the time.
“It was approved by the landowner and the council was happy with it, but when it was just about to take off the chairmen of the ski club unfortunately died. With nobody to take over, that was the end of that attempt.
“In the past twenty years there hasn’t been too much happening. There has been people running the odd tow here and there, but it wasn’t as popular as back in the 60s and 70s.
It certainly seems like the Lowther Hills are well on their way to making an overdue comeback on the British snow scene…
“Here we are again though, so hopefully this time we’ll be lucky!”
With the slopes set to open and the clubhouse on the cards, it certainly seems like the Lowther Hills are well on their way to making an overdue comeback on the British snow sports scene.
Keep an eye on the progress of the project online, and when it snows this winter, you know where to go!