Freeriding in the Scottish Highlands (Apr 2014)

Saturday 5th April 2014

Have you ever wondered why skiers and snowboarders venture down steep and avalanche prone ungroomed slopes? Why are we still doing it despite sobering headlines like “Michael Schumacher – still in a coma 3 months after a ski accident”?

The cool-headed would point out that freeriding is a hobby for adrenaline junkies. However, if it was just for the adrenaline rush, I would say one could get scared much cheaper at home, trying to cross Kingsway at rush hour. Adrenaline is certainly part of the story, but in my opinion there is much more to it.  Freeriding is all about freedom, about the feeling of flying high, and about effortless pure joy.

Here in Scotland we are very lucky that we can put skis or snowboards in the car or strap them on the bike and head for the gullies up north. There the snow stays skiable – some say – until may or even longer. I’ve wanted to try steep skiing since I arrived here in September last year. Because of the avalanche risk, it is unsafe to head into the off piste alone.  Jon Bowyer and David Matthews pointed me in the direction of the British Backcountry group on Facebook (thank you!). So I put an ad looking for like minded people at a similar skill level (I have been freeriding in the last 3 years in the Alps). Fortunately some people responded, and after almost 2 months of waiting for the perfect timing and the perfect snow we managed to meet at the Cairngorm car park in early April and head for our first couloir, Aladdin’s in Coire an Sneachda. Getting to the route was an adventure in itself. We skinned up the Lurcher’s Gully and got whited out as soon as we reached the plateau. It is too embarassing to mention how long it took us – 3 people with 3 maps, 2 compasses and 1 GPS – to find the entrance to the couloir. Long story short, we found it and we skied it! This time I am not sure about the feeling of freedom or flying high, it was more about “Yesssss!!!! We made it!!!!” and “Phewww, there was actually no reason to be scared!”. So we all agreed to come back soon and do it again, this time around with the proper freeride spirit.

So at the end, a huge thank you to my partners in crime, David Findlay and Fiona Neal from the British Backcountry group . Thanks go also to the DMC members at Elphin who took over the cooking from me that day – I owe you for that! [Ed: yes that’s right, Daniela headed all the way to Elphin that night to join in the Assynt meet – she was out caving the next day!] .

Report by Daniela Balslev