THE former Spitfire pilot who launched Scotland’s skiing industry is getting a special present for his 100th birthday – a new ski run named after him.
Philip Rankin has been dubbed the country’s “godfather of skiing” after creating the first ski lift, at Glencoe, 60 years ago.
The Second World War fighter pilot – shot down by a Luftwaffe bomber in 1945 – carried scrap metal and wires up the mountain by hand after “begging and borrowing” materials from the Glasgow shipyard where he worked.
In February 1956 the new lift was opened – marking the creation of the first commercial ski centre in Scotland.
Last weekend he was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the snowsports industry by governing body, Snowsports Scotland.
And now Glencoe Mountain Resort have paid tribute to Mr Rankin before his 100th birthday in April by naming their new green run “Rankin’s Return”.
Mr Rankin, who lives in Ballachulish, at the other end of the glen, helped launch an industry now worth more than £30m a year.
He retired from running Glencoe in 1992 and the resort’s current ower, Andy Meldrum, said the tribute was a long time coming.
Mr Meldrum said: “From our perspective we’ve always wanted to do something to honour Philip Rankin so naming the new run Rankin’s Return seemed perfect.
“He’s had such a huge influence on Scottish skiing so deserves the recognition.
“We have a lot of stuff in the cafe about him such as his portrait which he has been up to see.”
Rankin revealed in an interview three years ago that he was still skiing at the age of 83.
He said: “I skied at the millennium and then I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to get any better’ so I made a firm decision to stop.
Following a visit to the resort back in 2012, Mr Rankin said he was astonished by the changes.
He said: “To my absolute amazement we went across the plateau in a Land Rover – they’d made a roadway up – and there were these sort of snow buggy taxis buzzing around all over the place.
“I was absolutely astounded. But all very good – good good stuff – a lot of it stuff I’d dreamed of doing but there was just no possible way of financing it.”
Rankin’s Return will sit to the left of Glencoe’s new three man chairlift, Rannoch Chair, which is set to be launched next year.
However snowboard and ski enthusiasts will still be able to access the new run using alternative lifts.
Scotland now has five ski resorts – Glencoe, Glenshee, Cairngorm, the Nevis Range and the Lecht.
The resorts attract more than 200,000 snowsports fans every year from across the world.
The first record of skiing in Scotland was in 1892 by William Wilson Naismith in the Kilsyth Hills.
The Scottish Ski Club was later founded in 1907 but it wasn’t until resorts were built that numbers started flocking.
Glencoe currently has 20 runs and eight lifts – catering for skiers and boarders of all levels – and includes the longest and steepest runs in Scotland.
Glenshee remains the largest ski centre in the UK.
Cairngorm followed in 1961 with a chairlift which has now been superseded by a state-of-the-art funicular railway.
Lecht Ski Centre was founded in 1977 but the Nevis Range resort didn’t open until 1989.
Mr Rankin’s war service saw him based in Oxfordshire, Cairo, Calcutta and Rhodesia.
He self-deprecatingly remarked in a recent interview: “I must have been the most expensive and useless pilot in the RAF, I think. I always arrived just after the battle was finished or left before it started. It wasn’t until 1945 that I first scratched the paint on anything.”
That year he was shot down over the North Sea after flying too close to a German anti-aircraft battery and had to be fished out of the water by air sea rescue.