Riding the magic carpet
As the country shivers in the coldest winter for more than a decade, pupils from Applegrove Primary in Forres have been taking full advantage and mastered their snow ploughs within days at the Lecht Ski Centre in Aberdeenshire.
If it's a while since you've skied in Scotland, you might notice a few changes - there's now a magic carpet that whisks you up the hill and if there's not enough snow, they make it.
The Lecht was the first non-glacial ski centre in Europe to open for business this winter, with the first skiing on October 31. It has 15 runs with snow cannons for manufacturing snow and a travelator known as the Magic Carpet transports beginners to the top of a nursery slope.
Sixty P6-7 Moray pupils from Applegrove have been staying for a week at the Abernethy Centre at Nethybridge near Inverness, where they practised on the centre's dry ski slope before heading for the hills. "The children are different here and you get to know them much more," says their teacher, Diane McGregor, who has been bringing pupils on trips to the Abernethy Centre for 25 years. "You also get children who are maybe not so good academically and are absolutely fantastic skiers,"
"It's good for their self-esteem and brings them on, and that has a knock-on effect when they go back to school. We've had three days of blue skies and sunshine."
It's a first time skiing for 10-year-old Lucia Mackenzie and her friend Fiona Wilson, and they have already decided balance is the key. "We have fallen a few times though," they laugh.
The girls are staying in one of the chalets at Nethybridge: "There are six in our room and our bedroom is enormous," says Lucia. "We've been swimming as well, but ski-ing's the best bit," says Fiona.
A team of instructors from the centre is teaching the children, who are working towards their Snow Life Ski Awards, administered by the Scottish Ski Council. "We encourage them to ski without poles to start with, so they get good balance and a good stance, and from that we can develop and give them poles later on when they're a bit better," says senior instructor Jen Lynn.
If there's no snow on the slopes, the Abernethy Centre has an endless list of activities. "We have an indoor swimming pool, squash and tennis courts, a climbing wall, an abseil tree, a zip-wire adventure course, an archery range, a pond for kayaking, canoeing and raft building and a dry ski slope," she says.
The Lecht is a good starting point for learners and intermediate skiers and the travelator allows beginners to get up the hill from the outset: "You just stand on and it takes you up to the top. You've got to be able to ski before you can use the other lifts," says James McIntosh, operations director at The Lecht.
He started this resort 32 years ago: "We put in the snow-making machines in 1998 and have six snow cannons. We are running mostly on man-made snow with a couple of inches of natural on top. It's better to ski on - it's finer consistency."
The ski season is looking promising, but the centre also provides schools with facilities for activities weeks during summer. "We have go-karts, quad bikes, devil carts and, this year, we are building two mountain bike tracks which will open in June," he says.
Probationer teacher Hazel McLauchlan is one of the group of teachers and parents accompanying the Applegrove pupils. She is a keen snowboarder and skier and has thoroughly enjoyed this week away with the pupils: "I'm loving it - I don't want to go back to class next week," she laughs.