Scotland's best known ski area is ten miles East of the lively village of Aviemore. There have been dramatic improvements here in recent years and a vast array of non-ski activities are now available to counter the traditional problem - unpredictable weather.
Snow cover in the Cairngorms and affecting all Scottish ski areas is unpredictable. There can be good falls any time from October to June and equally there can be periods when the slopes are largely bare even at what would be the height of the season elsewhere in mid-winter. Strong winds can also be a problem, closing lifts sometimes, although the new funicular has dramatically reduced this problem at Cairngorm. When conditions are good at Cairngorm there's nowhere better. Cairngorm has a good range of terrain. For total beginners there are easy green runs just up from the Main Car Park or further up beside the Ptarmigan Centre in the Ptarmigan Bowl, providing an easy beginner area accessed via the Funicular from the Base Station. Almost half of the slopes (48%) are for beginners and intermediates. Coire Cas, straight up from the Main Car Park, has plenty of green and blue slopes for the intermediates and advancing novices. The M2 is a good long blue run starting from the Ptarmigan Centre at the top all the way down to the Car Parks. 47% of the slopes are red and more experienced skiers enjoy the challenge of the Ciste Gully. The most challenging run, the only black, is the West Wall at Coire na Ciste. The White Lady provides an extra challenge when its covered in moguls. To help you find your way around there is a free guide service. The Hilton Cairngorm Ambassador Team provide friendly and informative escorted ski and board tours of Cairngorm with a daily tour at 11.30am from the information office in the Base Station at Coire Cas car park.
Aviemore has some of the best family facilities of any ski centre in the world - everything from huge indoor soft play, through steam train rides and a theme park to unusual options like a fish farm visit. The Landmark Visitor Centre at Carrbridge (7 miles/10km from Aviemore) has an adventure playground, nature trails, historical multi-vision show and exhibition shops with restaurant. The purpose-built Fun House at Coylumbridge (1 mile/1.6km from Aviemore, 6 miles/9 km from ski centre) has a host of fun activities (hence name) and offers supervised créche facilities. There are plenty of family friendly eating and lodging options . On the slopes child friendliness is less obvious with no daycare and no ski school for children aged under 6, the elderly lifts are also not especially family friendly, although again the new funicular allows families to travel together and the ride up is exciting enough in itself for many children.
You really will be spoilt for choice in Aviemore as there are so many different places to eat. Just off the Ski Road, beside the River Spey is the Old Bridge Inn. It has a cosy, informal restaurant and serves a wide variety of delicious Highland produce for lunch or dinner, and they have a special children's menu designed for younger tastes. La Taverna is the place to go for excellent Italian cuisine, they do everything from light lunches and snacks in their Cafe-Bar to Italian regional specialities in the Restaurant. Their children's menu is served until 7pm and later on it's a great place for a romantic candle lit meal and to sample some locally produced beer including Aviemore Breweries fine ales. Harkai's Fish Restaurant specialises in traditional Scottish Home Cooking. Its on the south side of Aviemore so its on the road as you're heading into Aviemore from the slopes. Open from 8.00am to 10.00pm, you can sit-in or take-away and they do everything from hot chocolate with cream and marshmallow to full-on cooked breakfasts or delicious evening meals. There's a Special Children's Menu and kids under 5 eat for free (one per full paying adult). For more info - and a look at their menu - visit their website www.harkai.com. The Cairngorm Hotel has a weekly Highland Buffet Evening where you can sample Highland produce, including Haggis. They have a weekly whisky tasting evening too with a local expert giving advice on the different whiskies. On Sunday, if for some reason you don't manage to make it up the mountain you could try their Sunday lunch.
The main centre for nightlife is Aviemore which has a good choice of pubs and hotels and really seems to come alive when it has a covering of snow. The Vault, the local nightclub is the place to go if you want to party into the early hours, whilst many of the bars and hotels have live music. The Cairngorm Hotel, The Winking Owl, RD's, MacKenzie's and Mambo's are all popular with the tourists and locals alike. The other villages in the area, from Newtonmore in the south to Grantown and Carrbridge in the north, all have a good variety of bars and nightlife. If you're looking for a cosy Highland pub with a good selection of fine malt whiskies, cask conditioned ales and a superb cellar of great wines then the Old Bridge Inn, by the River Spey is the place to be, especially on a Tuesday night when they have a Highland evening with lively local entertainment.
Cairngorm can offer snowsports instruction, provided by The Ski School and Zippyboarder School, both based at Level 3 of the Day L;odge. Visit their websites at www.theskischool.co.uk and www.learn2snowboard.co.uk for more information. Clothing hire is also available. This ski area was the first to have a fully maintained snowboard fun park and have produced a ride guide integral to their piste map which keeps boarders informed on their beginner areas, freestyle jumps, freeride, carving and steeps. The terrain at Cairngorm is varied and natural features will form depending on the wind direction and snow.