Although perhaps not the best known of Scotland’s five ski areas, Glenshee is in fact the largest in terms of the extent of the terrain and the number of lifts. The centre’s slopes, which have welcomed skiers since the 1930s, extend across three separate valleys.
Glenshee is located close to Braemar, home of the famous annual Highland Gathering each summer. The slopes stretch to Royal Deeside, past Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s Scottish retreat, and on towards Aberdeen.
As with all of the Scottish ski areas, Glenshee’s management do annual battle with the vagaries of British weather, some years having excellent, snowy winters and sometimes being plagued by warm weather that brings limited natural snowfall.
When conditions are good - and even when lacklustre but still open - the centre is very popular with a loyal fan base, aided a little by the fact that it is the closest of the centres to four of Scotland’s six cities: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Stirling.
Despite the popularity of the slopes, there is no resort base at Glenshee and skiers tend to be day trippers, or stay in nearby villages, although a few stand-alone hotels closer to the centre are available.
Glenshee is located in the Grampians mountain range, within the Cairngorms National Park in the eastern Scottish Highlands. It is situated between Perth to the south, Aberdeen to the east, and Inverness to the north; on either side of the main A93 road from Perth to Aberdeen via Braemar.
Nearest airport: Aberdeen Airport (ABZ); Edinburgh Airport (EDI); Glasgow Airport (GLA).
Distance to resort: 119km (73 miles); 120km (74 miles); 162km (100 miles).
Driving time: 1 hour 50 minutes; 1 hour 50 minutes; 2 hours 15 minutes.
Glenshee ski centre is situated 14km (8 miles) south of Braemar and 40km (24 miles) north of Blairgowrie on the A93 road. There is no winter bus service and the nearest rail station is Pitlochry, 52km (32 miles) away, so most visitors arrive by car. Fortunately, there is extensive car parking available, the majority of which can be found in the main car park at the foot of the slopes.
Glenshee's ski season normally takes place between December and April, subject to adequate snow cover. Depending on conditions, the centre may not be open every day so it is important to check ahead before visiting.
There are 40km (24 miles) of ski runs in Glenshee, with nearly three quarters of the runs rated easy blue or intermediate red. The ski area extends over the four peaks of Glas Maol, Meall Odhar, Cairnwell and Cairn Aosda.
There are beginners' areas on both sides of the road, near the car parks, with about a dozen drag lifts serving the area. These green-graded runs are predominantly in the Sunnyside sector.
Intermediates can spread out across the three valleys with long reds beneath Glas Maol. There are wide runs in Thunderbowl and popular sheltered terrain over the back at Coire Fionn. Meanwhile, freestylers and snowboarders will enjoy the bumps, jumps and natural half-pipe of Meall Odhar.
There are two black classified runs, the steepest of which, The Tiger, is beneath the Cairnwell chair. In this part of the mountains there's also a racetrack area that has in the past hosted speed skiing championships.
There's a lot to do around Glenshee; however, most activities are located a few miles from one another so having a car is important to take full advantage of the opportunities.
Most of the leisure activities available are outdoors and include hill walking, mountain biking, horse riding, fishing, birdwatching and clay pigeon shooting.
There are also many places of interest in the area with a true Scottish theme, including several whisky distilleries and the village of Braemar – famous for its annual summer Highland Gathering, which is normally attended by a member of the Royal Family.
One local facility is the Glenshee Pottery (tel: +44 1250 882 238; www.glensheepottery.co.uk) that – apart from selling ceramics – stages winter workshops in a wide range of craft activities including needle felting, wire crocheted jewellery and silk papermaking.
Après ski at Glenshee is extremely limited with the absence of a real resort base or even a single resort village in the vicinity. The centre’s own licensed Base Café is situated at the car park and is a good meeting place that’s popular with beginners.
Most skiers and boarders are day trippers from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Perth or Dundee and they head back there once the lifts close, taking any real party spirit with them.
Most of the après-ski opportunities are therefore concentrated within the nearby hotels and village bars of the surrounding area.
Braemar is the closest village and there are half a dozen choices here, including the traditional and pleasant Moorfield House (tel: +44 1339 741 244), with a snug bar area and good range of malt whiskies.
Accommodation in Glenshee and the surrounding towns and villages is made up of friendly, comfortable and good value hotels, bed and breakfast guest houses and hostels. There is a wide selection of places to stay in and around Blairgowrie, Alyth, Kirkmichael and the Spittal of Glenshee to the south, and Braemar and Ballater to the north and east. There are also plenty of self-catering lodges, varying in style from traditional wooden chalets to modern builds.
Glenshee has a very family-friendly atmosphere, which is replicated in the small villages around the resort.
However, due to the ski area’s small size and lack of conventional resort centre, indoor facilities such as swimming pools, which are common in larger, more centralised resorts, are absent; Aberdeen, Perth or Aviemore being perhaps the best options for those searching for these types of facilities.
On the slopes, there’s no specific ski kindergarten or teaching for the youngest children but there is a good ski school for children aged six and older, who can learn in the safety of the nursery slopes near the main car park. .
There are three on-mountain restaurants in Glenshee. The Cairnwell Mountain Restaurant is situated mid-mountain, accessed by chairlift, and has great views on a clear day. The cosy Meall Odhar Café is nestled in the middle valley over the road, and is accessed via the Beag Tow.
In the wider area, much of the evening dining is provided by local hotel restaurants such as Dalmunzie Castle (tel: +44 1250 885 224; www.dalmunzie.com), with its restaurant based in a former laird's mansion.
At the nearby village of Braemar, the intimate Gathering Place Bistro (tel: +44 1339 741 234) is superb with an eclectic menu of Scottish, British and European cuisine, plus vegetarian options. Taste Braemar (tel: +44 1339 741 425), situated within Airlie House, is also very good for a lighter meal or snack – make sure to try one of the homemade cakes on offer.
The traditional restaurant in the Braemar Lodge (tel: +44 1339 741 627; www.braemarlodge.co.uk) is also popular, noted for its wide menu, professional staff and tasty food.
Glenshee’s location close to four major cities means shopping is never far away, but opportunities in the resort itself are very limited, with one ski and gift shop at the centre. Travelling north, Braemar has a small selection of shops covering all essentials and providing tourist gifts. The choice continues to increase as you head east towards Aberdeen through Royal Deeside.