There is something magical about the sparkle of fresh snow in the early morning, the soft crunch, the whoosh as skis pick up speed. The chilled air against cheekbones, goggles as yet unmisted, while a mountain hare on a far slope looks at me in puzzlement. I am a skier, utterly obsessed, and somehow I was not expecting to find such perfection in the English Lake District. Yet it is there, hidden in a remote valley, far above the village of Glenridding. Two tidy wooden huts and a ski tow are the home of the Lake District Ski Club.
The Club, which boasts 355 members, is difficult to join. I may be a local – my home is Bowness – but even I was added to a waiting list before they let me in.
“Any more than 70 skiers on the slope,” said the Club’s President, Mike Sweeney, “and we are full. It is why we have to limit numbers.”
Mike is the sort who oozes the outdoors. Fresh-faced, smiling, and athletically dressed, he looks the true mountain man. After our meeting, my conscience took me for an immediate jog, although I was puffed within moments and made a personal note that it was time to take more exercise.
The Lake District Ski Club was founded in 1936, a year when the Queen Mary liner made her first transatlantic crossings, the Spanish Civil War began, and King Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. There was none of that in Lakeland, just an old half-a-crown for membership of the new club, founded by a local climber named Molly Fitzgibbon. In those times, much of the Club’s skiing was east of Penrith and outside today’s Lake District.
It was ten years later, in 1946, that a handful of Lakeland wanderers saw a deep snowdrift on the northern slopes of a fell called Raise, an 883-metre peak near Helvellyn. With that, a new ski area was born. By 1954 the slope boasted the country’s first permanent tow, and four years later the Club had built its own hut. That has now gone, replaced by today’s Millennium Hut, which took 66 days to build, and opened as the world’s fireworks welcomed in the year 2000.
“The hut normally seats 25,” said Mike. “But we have limited it to six for the moment. To allow for social distancing.” The pandemic was in full flow.
Skiing in Lakeland is as the sport once was. No ski bus, no coffee and sugar-doughnut around the corner, no glühwein, rösti and raclette. Enthusiasts walk or ski in, for at least an hour, sometimes two, climbing 2000 feet as they go. The huts are well hidden, and environmentally aware. You must be mountain-wise to find them and may even need a compass. You will certainly require a map. Ski school and ski hire? You must be joking. Bring everything, and that includes vacuum flask and grub.
“It’s not a place for your favourite skis,” said Mike. “There are rocks that need a tight turn, and the snow quality is…let me say…unpredictable.”
“The best month?” I queried.
“And how often is it possible to ski?”
“We only had around 18 days in 2020,” he replied, looking doubtful. “Although we have had more than 60 before that.”
The Ski Club slopes on Raise, small though they are, offer blue, red and black runs and plenty in between. Their names excite you to tighten your bindings – Savages Gully, Shovel Traverse, L’Eau Noir, Outer Mongolia – who would have thought this was England’s Lake District?
“And emergencies?” I queried. “What happens if I break a leg?” My skiing has long verged on kamikaze.
“Nothing has happened that I can remember,” Mike reassured. “Plenty of us are first aid trained, plus our stretcher and sledge, and there is always mountain rescue.”
“You haven’t seen me ski,” I whispered, so that only I could hear. Deep inside I was thinking, as I nodded thanks to Mike for his time. The Lake District Ski Club may be small, hard to find, and so many are unaware of its existence. Yet it is prestigious, too, and strangely attractive. It is certainly a piece of Lakeland history.
Silently I pledged one thing. At the first sign of a snowflake, you will find me there, skiing the unpredictable slopes of England’s Lake District.
If you go
The ski club hut is at GR345177. The best route is on foot from Glenridding (GR386169) via Greenside Mines (GR356174). There are alternative routes up. For detailed instructions, visit www.ldscsnowski.co.uk/getting-up-the-mountain.html
Glenridding car park – pay at the meter, which takes credit cards
Assuming you have a car pass and permission, follow Greenside Road from Glenridding to its very end, past the YHA, turn right a little further, and the LDSC car park is there.
The route can be snowy in winter, so be sure your car is prepared.
From the south, the most direct route to Glenridding is junction 36 of the M6, past Windermere and over the Kirkstone Pass.
From the north, aim for junction 40 of the M6 and drive along the shore of Ullswater to Glenridding.
For detailed instructions visit www.ldscsnowski.co.uk/getting-to-glenridding.html
YHA Helvellyn (2*)
Greenside Road, Penrith, CA11 0QR
Tel. 0345 371 9742
The Glenridding Hotel (3*)
Glenridding, Penrith, CA11 0PB
Tel. 017684 82228
The Inn on the Lake (4*)
Glenridding, Penrith, CA11 0PE
Tel. 017684 82444
Where to eat
At the ski tow, you are on your own. Bring everything you need on the mountain, and that includes food.
Helvellyn Country Kitchen
Glenridding, CA11 0PA
Tel. 017684 82598
Fellbites Café and Restaurant
Croft House, Greenside Road, Glenridding, CA11 0PD
Tel. 017684 82781
3 Greenside Road, Glenridding, CA11 0QQ
Tel. 017684 82298
Other things to do
Visit Aira Force
This is the most famous waterfall in the Lake District and drops 65 feet. Walking there and back from Glenridding is an easy two hours, to cover the 2.1 kilometres.
If you are seriously fit and have a hankering to break into a trot, try Mountain Run, the UK’s leading school of extreme mountain running.