WINTER IN ALL SEASONS

A decade ago, the idea of skiing, snowboarding and even ice-climbing on real snow and ice in the height of summer – and indoors – would have been dismissed as a gimmick. For millennia, human activity has been dictated by the seasons. Summer equates to surf, sandcastles and cycling – not snow!

Yet in Scotland’s tourism sector, the indoor adventure tourism market of year-round snow and ice is thriving.

Snow Factor Braehead near Glasgow is the country’s only indoor real snow sports facility. This past winter season, statistics reveal the facility accounted for over 50% of skier days across Scotland’s six mountain resorts. In the past year alone, over 40,000 people took a ski or snowboard lesson on its snowy slopes. National snowsport events like the Ski and Snowboard Cross (GBX) trials are increasingly hosted while spring and summer can see World Cup skiers and snowboarders in training.

Indoor ice is also attracting novice and seasoned climbers alike. Ice Factor Kinlochleven near Fort William is now in its 14th year as the world’s largest indoor ice-climbing facility. Year round, this gargantuan £3.6m indoor facility attracts circa 100,000 visitors. Within a boot print length of some the UK’s finest mountaineering terrain, expert and novice climbers head indoors to experience the thrill of scaling ice walls that replicate winter climbing on nearby Ben Nevis.  

In part, I’d argue the unpredictability of the seasons drives this interest for winter sport indoors.  When it snows, Scotland’s mountain resorts offer fantastic skiing and snowboarding. During periods of insufficient snow cover, demand for slope time at Snow Factor is at a premium.

Yet if the indoor environment complements the mountain resorts, it also gives many time-pressed winter sport enthusiasts in the Central Belt the convenience and reassurance of enjoying year-round perfect snow close to home.   Winter or summer, he or she can pre-plan their day without fretting about the weather forecast. Indeed, Snow Factor has a 91 year-old gentleman who for the past 5 years and throughout the year visits three times per week simply to keep ski fit!

It’s the same for climbers and curious novices, attracted by the reassurance of being able to safely practice on ‘in condition’ ice – and proximity to a café!  Fun and a chance to hone technique, it also side-steps the cost and frustration of a planned mountain day being postponed by poor weather or lack of ice!

Notably, a Scottish Government report (Jan 2017) states that ‘temperatures in Scotland are projected to continue increasing over the next century, with hotter summers and milder winters.’  Snow Factor already supports the ‘off season’ training of current and aspiring World Cup snowboarders, skiers and ice-climbers. Time will tell if due to seasonal changes, the indoor snow environment is increasingly utilised to nurture a pipeline of home-grown Winter Olympic talent.

It may be anathema to the mountain purist but just like in Holland and Dubai, the indoors is already very much part of the outdoor adventure tourism offering. Though it’s questionable if Scotland could support another £30 million snowdome (as planned for Middlesbrough in 2019) such facilities positively contribute to the economy.

It’s almost Scotland’s summer adventure tourism season and for many, traditionally a time to surf and cycle. Of course, summer can still be winter and a chance to pack the snowboard!