Summer Ski Touring

Cross-country ski-tourers who confine their skiing activity to the winter and spring months, are missing out on a lot. Equipped with a pair of roller skis and a little imagination, you can enjoy some wonderful ski touring in summer. The scenery is just as spectacular, and there's the bonus of warm sunshine - the chance to wear shorts and t-shirt instead of gortex cagoules and yeti gaiters.

My favourite ski tour is the 33km circumnavigation of Lock Katrine, which combines varied and interesting terrain with an obligatory "nordic hillwalking" section - just like the winter walk to the snow-line! The route starts at Stronachlachar - a handful of Water Board cottages with a really isolated feel to it, yet only 90 minutes drive from Glasgow. Travelling in a clockwise direction, you follow a traffic-free Water Board road for much of the way.

Last summer, four of us from Western Track Ski Club enjoyed dry sunny weather for our annual trip. The initial kilometre was delightfully easy but as soon as we left the shelter of the rhododendron bushes a stiff headwind made its presence felt. It was hard work skiing along the roller coaster road to Glengyle. Fortunately, once round the corner of the loch, the wind was at our backs and we really fizzed along, past the graveyard of the Clan MacGregor on its little peninsula.

This northern stretch of the tour offers skiing of high technical standard, with some strenuous uphill work and a few distinctly hairy downhills. Around one particularly tight bend lurks a cattle grid. This caught me out on a previous trip, but this time was negotiated safely. Soon the skis were running smoothly back on easier terrain, and we skated on past Ellen's Isle towards the bustle at Trossachs Pier, with its ice cream vans and cruise steamer.

At the "sluices" we stopped for a bite to eat before tackling the traverse of the rugged north flank of Ben Venue. Walking boots were donned and rollerskis were strapped to rucksacks for the steep ascent of Bealach nam Bo - the robbers' pass the MacGregors used when driving their plundered cattle towards Glengyle. The route is grassy at first, then weaves through giant boulders to come out on an airy col at 1000 feet. It was a great moment as we came over the top and saw Loch Katrine spread below us and the big highland peaks away to the north-west. Cruach Ardrain and Beinn a'Chroin were bathed in sunshine in front of ominous purple-grey banks of cloud. The next couple of miles through heather tussocks, bogs and bracken required careful route finding before we picked up the landrover track. After a switchback couple of miles this becomes a tarred road. At last we could clip into the rollerskis for the final, easy ski back to Stronachlachar, completing the circumnavigation.

The circuit can be completed in under three hours as a "training exercise", but it's probably better to take a whole day and enjoy the views at leisure. Everyone I know who has done this route agrees that it is an absolute classic, and becomes an instant convert to "summer ski touring". More fun than walking yet more portable than a bike, rollerskis offer lots of possibilities for creating interesting routes by linking quiet stretches of cul-de-sac roads with a little walking.

Rollerskiing is much more than a training activity for committed racing skiers, so why confine your skiing to the snow - give summer ski touring a try!

Brian Adams
Last updated 13-8-2009