Monday, 25 November 2013

Nevis Range and Ben Nevis guidebook review

Scottish Backcountry guide: Nevis Range and Ben Nevis

The current big buzz in Scottish backcountry skiing is the brand new guidebook to the Nevis Range and Ben Nevis area published by SkiMountain and written by Lochaber local Kenny Biggin. The guidebook describes nearly 100 descents around Nevis Range, Ben Nevis and the nearby peaks, with difficulty ranging from gentle off piste routes to extremely serious challenges including some un-repeated descents.

Having been given a sneak preview via an electronic copy I caught up with Kenny last weekend at the Kendal Mountain Festival and now have a shiny copy hot off the press and I am happy to say it looks great in the flesh!

Each route has a full text description along with diagrams, clear topo-photos and a useful information panel: a straightforward 5-level scale of difficulty should help skiers pick suitable objectives and the book introduces a handy "harder than” and “similar to" feature for each route, a great idea for judging relative difficulty of the lines. Alongside this, the "combine with" information should help readers maximise their days out, offering some good 'enchainements' when conditions are right.

The guidebook also contains short sections on avalanche safety, backcountry equipment, and an interesting history of skiing in the area, including some classic archive photos of French Mountain Guide Jean-Franck Charlet skiing on Ben Nevis in the '80s.

For those familiar with the area the book may open up a few new ideas, for those less familiar this will be useful way of getting off the beaten tracks of the classic off piste descents and while hardened locals may see more tracks appearing in their favourite secret spots this guide can only be seen as a good thing, coming as it does on the back of a renewed wave of enthusiasm for backcountry skiing in the UK

Now for the downsides:
The only fault I can pick is the lack of OS-style maps showing the overall locations of the routes described (though I can understand this could be prohibitively expensive). In fairness though, grid references are provided for many routes’ entry points and exits so a bit of time spent sitting with the appropriate map should keep people heading in the right direction...

An absolute must for the keen Scottish backcountry skier or boarder, you can order a copy directly from Kenny at


  1. Hi Simon,

    You mention Charlet, did you also know that Grandaddy of extreme Sylvain Saudan worked as a ski instructor in Scotland in the early 1960s and skied a few lines.

    He worked for Derek Brakeman at the Glenshee ski school. Anyone remember him? Quite a figure of Scottish skiing in the 1960s I believe.

    Saudan recalls "mountains, much smaller than the Alps, but they hid some very serious lines. The ice and the cold were additional difficulties".

  2. Hi David,
    Didn't realise he had worked over there but I know he and Derek Brightman were close - we still see Derek up here in Bozel most springs (he used to work for Supreme until very recently...), and I can remember him telling me over a glass of rosé about skiing Mt Blanc with Sylvain way back when!

  3. Thanks for correcting my spelling, you can imagine the "lost in translation" from a Suisse Romande to English.

    Found this nice photo of Derek back in '63.

  4. I am wondering if that picture is a rare photo of the ski centre at Marr Lodge ? It opened in 1963 and had snow making - though was commercially a totally disaster. The T-bar ended up being moved to Glenshee (i.e the Cairnwell race track t-bar).

    Doug Bryce / HaggisTrap

  5. Saudan link here.
    Seems he spent a "gap year" in 1962 at Glenshee!

  6. I swear I saw Patrick Vallencant in Glencoe in 1983!