Scotland is at her best in the winter months – so say a dedicated and growing band of skiers and snowboarders, mountain bikers and climbers, mushers and curlers.
There's no better way of staving off a chill in the air than getting physical, and no better place than Scotland in which to do it. Scotland's five winter sports centres offer skiing and boarding for all abilities and there are great facilities both on-site and in nearby villages and towns. Each area has its own very distinct character, you're sure to find one that suits you.
Cairngorm Mountain has a reputation as one of the most beautiful – and sometimes challenging – places to ski in the UK, as well as boasting Scotland's only funicular railway. It's also Scotland's most popular resort and is located just a short distance from the main A9 arterial route which runs between Perth and Inverness.The north facing corries and slopes of Cairngorm mountain enjoy one of the best snow-holding records in Scotland. Visitors during late January can enjoy the Aviemore Dog Sled Rally – the biggest and most grueling event of its kind in Europe with over 200 teams of Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Greenlands and cross-breeds taking part.
Glenshee offers the most extensive skiing and boarding experience in the UK. Whatever your standard, you're catered for. It covers an area of more than 2,000 acres extending across four mountains and three valleys and boasting 21 lifts and tows. It hasn't always been this way, however. While skiing has been enjoyed at Glenshee since the 1930's, the uplift service was originally provided by two tractors!
Glencoe Mountain was Scotland's first commercial area to open with a ski lift in 1956, and is still a firm favourite with many skiers and boarders, thanks to its exhilarating terrain and friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The resort has always been a popular outing for more experienced snow sports fans, has become increasingly popular in the 21st century among more daredevil snowboarders and skiers. Highlights include Scotland's longest vertical descent and steepest on-piste run – 'The Fly Paper', it is the steepest and most thrilling black-graded run in Britain.
Scotland's fun snow area has something for everyone: expert tuition for adults and children alike; a Snowboard funpark and the Lecht 2090, a timed raceway for pros. For everyone else, there's snowtubing, devil karting and quad bikes with plenty more to come. The Centre is has invested over £1 million in facilities for year-round visitors.
Scotland's newest ski resort and arguably its most imposing with Ben Nevis providing the stunning backdrop. The Nevis Range offers the highest skiing and boarding in Scotland. The off-piste terrain is comparable with many of the great European resorts, whilst the gentle summit runs often have snow lasting well into May. The base of the snow sports area is accessed by the gondola, which is an attraction in its own right.
Prefer your mountains with bikes on, then you're in luck. Scotland is fast becoming a mountain biker's paradise, with large tracts of its wide-open spaces being developed into truly world-class trails. Head for the Glentress Forest Trail near Peebles, considered by one biking journalist to be "the best dedicated mountain bike centre in Britain", or the Red Bull Project Downhill at Innerleithen, which hosted the Scottish Downhill Mountain Bike Championships. For Britain's biggest downhill and the only national and international race location, try the lower slopes of Aonach Mor in the Nevis Range. Rated one of Britain's top 10 bike venues by MBR magazine, the Nevis Range offers some of Britain's best cycling for all abilities, ranging from international standard race routes through to gentle family trails.
With the advent of two brand new state-of-the-art activity centres, it's now possible to enjoy all the thrills and spills of the great outdoors indoors. Just 10 minutes drive from Glencoe and half an hour from Fort William, The Ice Factor is Britain's premier indoor mountaineering centre. The biggest indoor ice climbing facility in the world, it also features the UK's largest articulated rock climbing wall and a competition-standard bouldering hall, making it the perfect place to practise, train and learn every conceivable mountaineering skill. After which you can relax in the sauna, steam room, plunge pool or hot tub.
Further south, The Edinburgh International Climbing Aena is located in a spectacular quarry setting. It boasts an impressive range of world-class facilities, including: the world's largest indoor climbing arena; a 122 metre-long SkyRide; state-of-the-art adventure sports gym; national judo academy; scuba diving school and Urban Sports Park complete with BMX and mountain bike trails and dual slalom.
It's not all about enjoyment, of course. Some Scots, like Olympic snowboarder Lesley McKenna and Rhona Martin who skippered her curling team to victory in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, take their winter sports very seriously. The first British Winter Games gold medallists since Torvill and Dean back in 1984 and the first Scots to win gold at the Winter Olympics since 1936, Rhona's team's success was followed up later the same year by Jackie Lockhart's rink becoming the first Scottish Ladies to win the World Championships. Together, they have sparked a revival in the sport that originated in Scotland nearly 500 years ago.