10 great winter activities in Scotland

Fat_bike

Don’t let the cold, snow or ice put you off an outdoors adventure this winter. Wrap up warm to make the most of these fun activities.

Scotland can be an amazing place to enjoy the outdoors in winter. While the weather does prove tricky, there are days when bright blue skies, no wind and sunshine offer the opportunity to enjoy a different environment.

Snow and ice also create new opportunities for activities that can only be enjoyed in the winter season.

It’s important to remember that winter weather does bring increased risks but if you pay attention to the forecast, use the right kit and do not push your limits of experience you can enjoy time outdoors in the chillier season.

10 top winter activities

Fat biking

Fat bikes are perfectly suited to wet and muddy winter trails – and also to snow. The low tyre pressures and extra wide knobbly tyres easily gain traction in slippery and boggy conditions.

In fact, if you haven’t yet tried fat biking you will have no idea how much fun it is.

Hire a fat bike from a growing number of bike stores or check out the fast expanding range of fat bikes being sold by many brands these days.

Fat bikes roll over all kinds of obstacles and feel more like an armchair fitted with tank traction, rather than an ordinary mountain bike.

To hire, try: Mugdock Country Cycles, Katrine Wheelz, Progression Bikes, Law Cycles, Bothy Bikes.

 

Night riding

Make the most of dark evenings by adding a high lumens headlight to your bike for a ride that feels other-worldly.

It’s surprisingly exhilarating to ride on the road or trails when it’s dark all around and you only have a front light to guide you.

Make sure you adjust your speed to compensate for less vision and if you are riding on the roads add rear lights and bright clothing.

Likewise, you might like to try night running with a head torch or night swimming in lochs.

 

wild west swimmers winterWild swimming

There has been a huge rise in the numbers of wild swimmers in Scotland’s lochs, rivers and at the coast. And many will not stop just because it’s winter.

Some winter swimmers will even dare to go for a swim without wearing a wetsuit and they may well tell you that there are health benefits, such as warding off colds, when swimming through the chilly season.

One hardy group, the Wild West Swimmers, regularly meet for winter swims and also swim at night. On a recent swim at a reservoir near Stirling the water was only 5.2C.

Thankfully, there are great winter warmer wetsuits, boots, gloves and hoods available for those who want to try wild swimming in winter.

It’s advisable to swim as part of a group and to ease yourself into the water slowly. If swimming at night, swimmers will use light sticks, head torches and floats with lights attached for night-time visibility.

See Wild West Swimmers

 

Surfing

The winter months can offer some of the best conditions for surfers in Scotland. It’s when water temperatures remain relatively high, compared to the air temperature.

This time of year is also associated with lower atmospheric pressures, which often create stronger and more consistent waves.

Sam Christopherson, of Coast to Coast Surf School in East Lothian, says: “The summer is warmer generally but when surfing people are concerned more with air and water temperature differences and the difference is less in winter.

“Also, in very basic terms, in autumn and winter we tend to experience lower atmospheric pressures, which create larger sea swells. This makes the surf bigger and more regular. For surfers, the waves are generally easier to ride although if they become too big they are only for the experts.”

Improvements in the warmth of wetsuits, boots, gloves and hoods allows many surfers to enjoy their sport year-round. Sam says: “It’s amazing how much better the kit has become. I really enjoy surfing in the chillier months.”

 

skimoSkimo

Skimo is short for “ski mountaineering” and takes the form of a multi-stage event including ski touring, downhill skiing and some mountaineering.

Like a triathlon, the sports are joined together in one event with transition areas where racers change their gear.

Although skimo has been popular in places such as the Alps for more than a century, the sport only arrived in Scotland in 2012.

Acclaimed mountaineer Di Gilbert is the driving force behind an annual series of skimo events at four of Scotland’s ski resorts.

The landscape of Scotland dictates that races are shorter and lower than the Alpine equivalents, which makes them more accessible to a wide range of competitors.

Di says: “While our Scottish events are not as long or as high as those in other countries the emphasis for us is fun and inclusion.

“We get all kinds of people taking part from novices to experts and across all ages, male and female.

“We try to create a party atmosphere and year on year our events have been growing.”

See Skimo Scotland. This year’s series starts at the Lecht on December 28.

 

ski touringSki touring

Ski touring is one of the activities that is part of skimo, but rather than racing, tourers head off to explore the amazing snow-covered landscape of Scotland at their chosen pace.

Indeed, Scotland is acclaimed for its fantastic back country skiing. Ski touring on uncharted terrain does require experience, good navigational skills, avalanche awareness and all the right kit. However, there are guides who can lead the less experienced.

On touring skis you can walk uphill and ski down. Going up is achieved with “skins” attached to the base of skis for grip on the snow. The heel of the ski boot can be unclipped to allow knee bend when walking uphill.

Then, when you come to a downhill section, you remove the skins, clip in the heel and ski as normal. 

See Ski Tour Scotland.

 

Downhill skiing

It’s the more traditional form of skiing but it’s no less fun. Scotland’s five ski centres of Glencoe, The Lecht, Cairngorm, Nevis Range and Glenshee – as well as a sixth ski centre in the Lowther Hills in southern Scotland – offer groomed and graded runs for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities and ages.

If you’re a beginner, you can hire equipment and book a ski lesson. If you have your own kit, simply buy a lift pass.

 

snowshoesSnow shoeing

A couple of years ago, during a winter of Munro bagging, I watched in envy on several occasions as people wearing snow shoes passed me with ease walking on top of deep snow. Meanwhile, I plodded knee deep up and down the mountains, following in my partner’s deep footsteps.

So, I decided to join them. I bought a pair of snow shoes (from Decathlon) and found out just how much fun it is to be able to traverse the countryside when the snow is thick.

Snow shoeing is similar to walking, expect it’s far easier! I have since upgraded to MSR snow shoes.

For a guided trip in Scotland see C-N-Do.

 

Winter skills

It is surprisingly enjoyable being out in the winter countryside learning about how to survive should something go wrong. While these skills courses could save your life they are also taught in a fun and inclusive way.

During a winter skills session you might expect to learn how to use crampons and ice axes, how to perform an ice axe arrest, avalanche awareness, how to build a snow hole and the basics of ice climbing.

Many outdoor providers run winter skills courses including Nine One Six, Glenmore Lodge, G2 Outdoors and Abacus Mountain Guides.

 

walking in winter MunrosWinter walking

A walk that you have enjoyed in spring or summer can be even more amazing in winter. With frost or snow covering the landscape you will be treated to some very different views.

If you can, pick a day when the weather looks promising and choose a route that you have the experience and equipment to walk.

If you are doubtful about your ability, why not join a guided winter walk for a more exciting adventure this winter?

See WalkHighlands for ideas.



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