- Mar Lodge Ski Centre, Creag Bhalg (and Beinn a' Bhuird)
Mar Lodge, west of Braemar in the Cairngorms, was home to an ambitious 1960s ski centre which was forced to close due to bad luck more than anything else.
Creag Bhalg, above Mar Lodge, was the central area developed, and was done so by two Swiss businessmen - the Panchaud brothers - who had bought the estate at a time when Scottish skiing was booming.
Bolstered by recent winters of heavy snow, in an ambitious move they installed two T-Bar tows and a large snow making system, which they said was Europe's largest such facility at the time (covering 20 acres), while the Lodge itself offered an impressive array of facilities and services.
Of the two tows, the 'blue' (beginner) T-Bar tow was 620ft long (offering 180ft vertical), while the 'red' T-Bar tow was 2050ft long (offering 600ft vertical) and reached near to the summit of Creag Bhalg. The two lifts offered a total capacity of 1,400 people per hour (600 and 800).
The runs themselves were situated both on the open hillside as well as through forests, and catered for all abilities. In order to be able to open the area with minimum snow depths, the ski slopes were deliberately cleared of any rocks and tree stumps.
Fully aware that their estate was remote from public roads and that people may therefore travel elsewhere, the Panchaud's saw massive potential in Beinn a' Bhuird for attracting skiers to their estate, with the mountain offering multiple possibilities for skiing. It was at this time that the lengthy bulldozed track was constructed on Beinn a' Bhuird's southern slopes (reaching to near the summit), with the intent of developing the area with ski infrastructure. The development on Beinn a' Bhuird never went any further, and the ground the track covered is now in the process of being restored.
The Mar Lodge Ski Centre opened to the public on 21st December 1963, but the first season of operation - winter 1963/64 - was to prove a disaster. With the temperature rarely getting below freezing, and precious little snow, the tows were rarely able to operate. The winter after was to be no better. While temperatures were cold enough, there was very little precipitation for falling snow and the Mar Lodge snow making equipment was rendered useless when the streams froze up meaning that they were unable to make any snow.
After an unlucky and unusual run of bad winters they were forced to close the ski centre. The two T-Bars were later relocated to the Glenshee Ski Centre, with the longer ('Red') T-Bar becoming the Cairnwell T-Bar (still there, and still in regular operation), and the shorter ('Blue') T-Bar becoming the Trainer Tow (since removed - approx 2002/3). The area of mountain the Trainer Tow sat on at Glenshee became known as Claybokie, named after the small hamlet near Mar Lodge where the tow once stood.
Interestingly, V.A. Firsoff, author of "On Ski in the Cairngorms", recommends the Mar Lodge tow as a good start for access to Beinn a' Bhuird, using the route up over Creag Bhalg and down to the Quoich, though the number of people to have ever used this route must surely be in single figures.