Powder in the Pennines: skiing Yad Moss England
By Euan Cartwright
Published September 2007
Pictures courtesy of Euan Cartwright
Skiing and snowboarding in England is limited to dry slopes, (those plastic hills that will strip skin from bone and break digits should you fall) and a few snowdomes where they pinch your wallet in exchange for an hour of trying to avoid hoards of learners on sheet ice, right? Wrong.
In the far north of the England there are a few real snow slopes which, occasionally, get real snow and amongst them, Yad Moss is considered by many to be the best on offer.
Two thousand feet up on the Pennine mountains above Alston ( Grid Ref NY 774 377) you might think that the place would spend half the year under snow, (indeed it used to be like that not so long ago) but global warming has hit Cumbria as well as ski resorts in France, Canada and the rest of the world. When Yad Moss first opened 30 years ago, they would regularly get 30-40 days of skiing, but now it's down to 10-15 days, and that's in a good year.
The slope has a button tow 560 metres long with a vertical drop of 125 meters and a potential uplift of 600 an hour. There are plenty of snow fences to catch what ever falls and they have a real piste packer to spread it around to all the right places. There is also a day lodge with toilets and . . . er. . . that's about it. Après ski is a pub in Alston, catering is your own sandwiches (if you remembered them) and if you need a drink, well, you'll still be needing it at the end of the day.
The centre is run completely by volunteers from the Carlisle Ski Club who are up there in the summer cutting the grass and oiling whatever it is you oil on those big wheel-ie/cable-ie things, then disappear back to Carlisle to await the snow. No one gets paid and all the money taken from lift ticket sales goes back into maintaining the slopes. These people deserve a medal.
When the snow comes they have some fantastic days up there; a good fall and people flock from as far as Nottingham - well where else can you get a whole day's skiing or snowboarding for £15 this side of Albertville? On a good day they can get a hundred people up there which can mean a bit of a queue, but it's probably the friendliest resort in Europe - everyone just swaps stories about their Misty 270s and getting lost somewhere near Penrith and you can get plenty of runs in between 10am and 4pm when they are open.
Arrive early and you can have the place to yourself - and what a place. High on the whale backed crest of the Pennines, overlooking mile upon mile of shining snow and ice. Finding the place can be a bit of a problem for the cartographically challenged and there is no point in asking for a postcode to feed into your Sat Nav - as far as I know, Yad Moss is off the post office grid! It's about 7 miles south of Alston on the road to Middleton in Teesdale. You don't get a lot of traffic in the North Pennines on snowy days so just drive around until you see lots of cars parked by the roadside - that'll be it. From the car park you can just about see the tow ferrying skiers and snowboarders to the Pennine powder.
An incongruous collection of buildings are clustered at the bottom where you can buy your day ticket and launch off up the hill. Launch, sometimes quite literally. The tow goes off with a bang, through a narrow gulley and then up onto a bowl of snow. Beyond the bowl the snow fences abound and progress on the tow can depend on your ability to negotiate drifts if the volunteers have not yet got up there with a couple of shovels to level it out.
A long gentle uphill slopes ends with a sharp upward kick and there you are, on top of this particular corner of the world - fantastic views and, not uncommonly, a lazy east wind - lazy because it can't be bothered to go round you, just straight through.
Depending on the volume of snow you now have a choice; weaving down between the snow fences you can choose your own route on a piste about 100m wide with dips and drops to avoid or go for - great fun. The first steep 50m are followed by 300m of gentler slope - good for beginners, but don't expect a nursery slope - this is not easy territory. Finally you drop down into the bowl and back to the bottom station.
An alternative from the top is to traverse to the left and look for so called Powder Gully - it's quieter - but narrow and not easy for beginners - plenty of kickers in this area. Finally don't miss the gulleys on the right of the bowl - known as the Gun Barrel - if there is enough snow they are narrow and steep - not exactly Courcheval couloirs, but challenging none the less.
Yad Moss is well set up for information about conditions - no need for a wasted journey. The website has a snow report which is up dated daily when snow is threatening to fall and there's also a webcam and a recorded snow report meaning you can always phone in to check conditions. So if you turn up and find the ski slopes abandoned, you've only got yourself to blame!
Beginners are welcome and there is plenty of space to practice or to build your own kicker or just to bask in all that Cumbrian sunshine. But be warned - the tow is not easy to master, especially the first bit. The operators will slow it right down for you, offer you tips and pick you up when you fall off, but plenty of first time users ask for, and receive, a refund because they can't master it! Oh - and about that Cumbrian sunshine; it isn't guaranteed and conditions can be pretty harsh so take the right clothing.
You may start the day with a half mile uphill walk, but I bet you'll finish the day with a smile on your face, a half mile downhill slide and some great stories to tell your mates about real snow sport in our very own England.
For more information on about skiing and snowboarding in England's Yad Moss ski area, check the Yad Moss Website, or phone their snow hot line on: 01228 561634