Matt Brown & the Scottish Highlands

Name - Matt Brown.

Nationality - British / Australian.

Occupation - Sales Assistant at Ellis Brigham and general mountain buffoon.

How would you describe your skiing - Adventurous + ambitious. I started learning skiing when I moved over from Australia in early 2019 through the use of dry slopes, indoor slopes and days on piste. I quickly transitioned to ski touring and this has allowed me to explore the mountains near to home with friends of similar ski ability and those better than me. I enjoy the journey element of ski days, seeking out lines in the backcountry and sharing good times with other folk. I still wipe-out on occasion, because you can’t learn without having some failure.

Where are you based/do most of your skiing - I live near Aviemore within the Cairngorms National Park. The bulk of my ski season is spent in the Cairngorm mountain range itself, around the peaks of Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul and Braeriach. Most of my season is spent in the backcountry, however I do enjoy the odd day of lift-accessed piste skiing.

What do you love about your home mountains - I love the changing seasons, the varying landscape, the harsh weather with its testing conditions, sessions in the white room, finding untouched Scottish powder, untouched steep lines, the journeys and the people that choose to ski here. No two days in the backcountry are the same. We all use weather and avalanche forecasts to create a rough plan for the day but that can all change when you’re out there, so being flexible with the ever changing weather is essential. You could be skiing effortlessly on good snow and all of a sudden it can change to boiler plate ice, rock-hopping, sastrugi (snow shaped by the wind into waves) and quite often you could be linking up patches of snow with heather. Winter provides an amazing backyard of snow to play in and it’ll change 180 in summer to a granite filled landscape perfect for hiking, trail running and climbing.

Tell us about the natural environment; relief, climate, flora and fauna - My home mountains in winter, The Cairngorms, form an arctic-like landscape with a plateau up high - unlike the mountains on the west coast of Scotland that rise dramatically from sea level. The mountains in the Cairngorms are often rounded on the tops, remnants of higher peaks. It is at the edges of such a plateau where we find the steep cliffs perfect for skiing and climbing. The highest peaks in the Cairngorms sit between 1200m to 1300m. Within these mountains you are likely to find ptarmigan, grouse, mountain hare and even a herd of reindeer! Lower down in the glens and Caledonian forest you will find red squirrels, pine marten, capercaillie and deer. 

The snow can often be very changeable in winter where we see our first major snowfall late November/early December. Through the season more snow will fall accompanied with periods of strong wind, warm spells and melting - all of which dramatically changes the landscape.

Disclaimer: I can’t claim to be any level of biologist/geologist and what I’ve mentioned above is from my own personal experiences and learning from others. If you want to learn more about the Cairngorms National Park please visit Cairngorms.co.uk.

What would your ideal day in the mountains look like - It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what my ideal day in the mountains would be. During the winter season I aim to be out in the mountains as much as possible, even on the ‘bad’ weather days. Although with appropriate kit choice and a good attitude bad weather can usually be managed. On any given day you could be presented with boilerplate ice, sastrugi, rare Scottish powder and heather all within bluebird, stormy or mixed weather days. 

The Cairngorm 4000s round is always something I look forward to every winter (and in summer). The route covers the 4000ft peaks within the national park; Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Angels Peak and Braeriach. Some notable parts of this loop include skinning across the plateau during sunrise, dropping off Ben Macdui into the Lairig Ghru, river crossings, bootpacking/climbing and head torch skiing. The weather can often be very changeable depending on when you complete the round. It is often done in March when the days are longer, the snow is more consolidated and temperatures are higher.

This year (2023) I completed the round on the 2nd January. The main reason for an early attempt was due to the high level of snow that had fallen and having a partner that was psyched for it. Hands down the longest I’ve taken to do the round (12.5 hours) with a head torch start/finish, some very testing conditions on our ascent up to Cairn Toul and my hip flexors giving up half way round. Sometimes a little suffering is worth it for the big adventure days as it set me up for the season quite nicely!

Besides the journey days, this year I've also started to delve into the world of steep skiing, which provided more ski opportunities later in the season with the snow melting. Biking and hiking becomes the norm to access ski lines. Notable ski descents from the season include; Aladdin's Couloir - Coire an t-Sneachda, Diagonal Gully - Stag Rocks, Castlegate Gully - Shelterstone, West Gully and Central Buttress Gully - Braeriach, Easy Gully and Raeburns Gully - Creag Meagaidh and Tower Gully on Ben Nevis.

I also dabble in piste/side country skiing on occasion.

Recommendations for visiting skiers etc: There are several guides/companies that offer guided tours in the Scottish backcountry either on journey days, steep days or simply learning to ski tour;

Glenmore Lodge - glenmorelodge.org.uk/backcountry-skiing/

British Backcountry - British Backcountry

Wandering Workshops - wanderingworkshops.com/

And if you’re looking for ski touring/splitboarding equipment rental there are a couple of options in Aviemore;

Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports - ellis-brigham.com/equipment-hire-scotland

Tiso - tiso.com/aviemore-ski-hire

Favourite product - Insulated Phone Case. Nuff said.

I don’t have a super tough phone designed for the mountains, nor does it have much of a battery life and the cold days in the mountains can wreck havoc on a smartphone. With the Fjordalp Insulated Phone Case I’ve been able to sustain my phone through a full winters day, such as the 4000s round this year, keeping it warm and protected from the elements.

Follow Matt's adventures | instagram.com/mattylbrown/

Image 1, 2 & 3 - Bryce Powrie.

Image 3, 4, 5 & header - Rachel Thomas.