Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls have headed to Glencoe Mountain to enjoy the best conditions in decades.
The centre has been designated by Snowsport Scotland as the official resort where elite winter sports athletes can train during the national lockdown.
Top sportsmen and women have been given exemptions by the Scottish Government to continue training and competing – with appropriate social distancing and health and hygiene measures in place – and travel to the official sites beyond the current restrictions.
So while all of Scotland’s five snow sports centres remain shut to the public, a handful of top skiers have had the piste to themselves at Glencoe.
It has allowed Scotland’s oldest winter sports resort to maintain uplift and groom one piste, which centre owner Andy Meldrum described as having “perfect conditions” at times.
“Some weekends it has been exceptional – groomed with the hard surface that these elite athletes like. They have the mountain to themselves – their own piste. A lot would have normally been in Europe training, but in these exceptional times that is just not possible,” he said.
“So we approached SportsScotland and were made the official designated area for elite winter sports athletes.
“We started off with about four skiers but they are now being joined by freestylers and visually impaired athletes.”
The Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls are making use of Glencoe in what are probably the last few weeks of the season.
Trafford Wilson, chief executive, Snowsport Scotland said:”Since early January, Scottish snowsport centres were permitted to close in line with government covid restrictions. As a result, we have had a number of performance level athletes that are unable to train, which has been made harder by the fantastic snow conditions on offer in Scotland.
“Snowsport Scotland received a sportscotland performance training exemption in February, which allows our best athletes to train at Glencoe and Bearsden (indoor dry slopes) snowsport centres. We are very thankful to both centres for opening their facilities – at no cost – to allow our best athletes to train and prepare to compete on the world stage”.
Scotland’s five mountain ski centres have had their best winter conditions in years while closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Meldrum, who is also chairman of Ski Scotland, said: “All we want to do is open for locals – for people’s mental and physical wellbeing and the staff. I think we have shown we can operate safely.
“The government’s main issue seems to be people breaking travel restrictions, but we would only re-open to locals and we can manage that.”
Mr Meldrum said the season may come down to a final couple of weeks. Usually, on average, Glencoe alone attracts around 25,000 winter enthusiasts.
“We normally run through to the end of April/ beginning of May and everything (with reducing the spread of the virus) is moving in the right direction. We feel we can operate safely now,” he said.
After doing its bit for Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, Glencoe is set to reopen on April 26 and winter sports fans can look forward to good conditions.
Mr Meldrum said: “We hope to open on April 26 and get one or two weeks in for the skiers and boarders. We should have enough snow left.
“Unfortunately, the ski season will come down to a short period despite the great conditions.’”
Beyond Glencoe helping out with the Olympic and Paralympic effort, the government recognised the importance of the sector.
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise how beneficial sport and physical activity are to physical and mental health and we know that restrictions on dry ski slopes and other snow centres are disappointing. However, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and must do all we can to prevent transmission of the virus.
“We understand how difficult conditions are for businesses, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors, and have put in place a package of support to help them through these challenging times. We are committed to doing everything possible to get them back on their feet.
“Snow sport centres are currently required to close, by law, as they are in Level 4.”
Snowsports centres have been given £3 million by the Scottish Government to support them through the pandemic.
It is estimated that for every £1 spent on the Scottish slopes, a further £4 is spent in the surrounding areas.