At this time of year, the Cairngorms National Park transforms into a winter playground; our three snowsports centres offer skiing and boarding for all abilities; from a family of novices to some of our local Olympians.
Outside of the ski centres, we have some of the best back and cross country skiing in Scotland, and an abundance of places where families can just sledge and play in the snow.
Cairngorm Mountain, the Lecht and Glenshee attract thousands of skiers and boarders to their slopes every year. At each ski centre you are likely to see our local youngsters ripping around the hill, honing their downhill racing, freestyle boarding and skiing techniques. Our ski and snowboard clubs are the breeding ground for our future Olympians.
Many of the children who attend the primary and secondary schools in the National Park will have been given the opportunity to learn to ski and board as part of their school activities. Locally based charity, Badenoch and Strathspey Schools Snowsports Association, fundraises year-round to give primary school children their first taste of snowsports, with training provided by Cairngorm Mountain Ski School.
However, it is clubs and performance squads that take enthusiasm and sheer talent to the next level. Associations, with a strong racing heritage and dedicated to the advancement of snowsports, encourage young athletes to race and have fun.
Cairngorm Ski Club has been developing local ski talent for over 40 years. The Club boasts a number of athletes who started their performance skiing with Cairngorm Ski Club and have gone on to represent Scotland and Great Britain at the highest levels. The Club has focused on Alpine race training and you will often see members blasting through race gates on Cairngorm Mountain. In recent years, working with Cairngorm Snowboard Club, the Club introduced freestyle ski training and their recognisable blue jackets can often be seen doing tricks on boxes and rails in the snow park.
Cairngorm Snowboard Club, also based on Cairngorm Mountain, caters for all levels of rider; from novice to the elite. It is the focus of freestyle snowsports in the Highlands and attracts emerging young riders, with a desire to progress and learn new tricks.
At the Lecht you will often see the Gordon Skiers racing team and at the Glenshee Ski Centre, Glenshee Performance Squad: both present a huge range of ski and snowboarding coaching opportunities for youngsters in the east.
All clubs offer high quality performance coaching, races and competitions, often delivered by coaches who themselves have come through the clubs. There are ski and snowboard coaches and instructors, working all over the world with some of the top international teams, who learnt their skills and launched their careers with one of the clubs based in the Cairngorms National Park.
The Cairngorms has a strong skiing legacy and many of the coaches and instructors will have gained qualifications through BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors), headquartered in the Park, at Grantown-on-Spey. Many of BASI’s original members and instructors still live and ski locally.
The number of participating young local athletes continues to grow. The Cairngorm Ski Club’s youth membership increased from 60 to 100 in recent years. And it continues to expand. This year, working with local high schools and businesses, the Club is launching an on curricular school ski programme, aimed at attracting even more aspiring Olympians and coaches into the sport, and giving trainees more time on snow to enhance their skills.
Our local ski centres play an important role through their provision of subsidised facilities and a huge debt is owed to club committees and volunteers for their tireless work and commitment, helping to organise the clubs, provide quality coaches and hold races and events.
Witness the inspiring sight of 100 confident children mastering a mountain and you are left in no doubt as to the influence of the clubs and all those associated with them. The motivation may be to race, represent their club, improve technique, learn new tricks, ski or board faster or have a career in snowsports, but what the young people share, is a passion for ripping round the snow.
With this ethos of participation and performance, the clubs and associations should be confident in securing the future of snowsports through quality coaching, partnership and opportunity for all.
So, next time you are skiing, boarding at or just visiting one of our local ski centres, keep an eye out for the fastest and best young skiers and boarders; they are likely to be part of one of our local Cairngorms based Ski Clubs.
Clubs are always keen to take on new members for their development, race or freestyle teams. Find out more at www.cairngormskiclub.co.uk; www.glenshee-performance-squad.co.uk; www.cairngormsnowboardclub.co.uk; gordonskiers.blogspot.com