£27m to ‘unlock’ ski resort’s potential
US consultants unveil their vision
An ambitious £27 million, 10-year vision to revamp ski operations at Cairngorm Mountain, including new chairlifts, a mountain coaster and zipline tour, was unveiled yesterday.
The far-reaching proposals aim to boost winter visitors to consistently hit at least 150,000 a year and improve summer attractions to bolster yearround business.
A comprehensive review of facilities at the resort was commissioned prior to the crisis surrounding the funicular railway, which was shut down last month due to structural fears.
An independent report produced for Highlands and Islands Enterprise by American consultants SE Group makes a damning assessment that “the existing mountain infrastructure at Cairngorm does not provide a skiing experience that can compete in today’s marketplace”.
But the £80,000 study highlights “immense unlocked potential that can be unleashed with targeted, strategic investments”.
The report was given “overwhelming support” at the Cairngorm Business Partnership Conference in Aviemore yesterday, according to HIE’s head of business Susan Smith.
She said: “We are hugely excited, along with private and public sector stakeholders, to achieve and drive forward the vision.
“This is the first time in many years anyone has come out with a long-term plan for Cairngorm Mountain. It sets out recommendations to boost numbers during winter and to have something for the summer market to enable the resort to be sustainable on an all-year-round basis.”
The report promotes significant ski lift improvements to increase carrying capacity from the current 1,600 to the resort’s full potential of 2,700.
This would be achieved by constructing two new chairlifts in the Coire Cas base area. One would have a 3,200 people per hour (pph) lift capacity and a second could move 3,000 pph.
The proposed improvements, along with increased fencing and snowmaking technology, could create an additional 74 acres of skiing area.
It also recommends that the “unique” funicular should be enhanced and, once new uplift is in place, operators should consider tailoring its use for non-skiing visitors and ski school customers.
To boost the resort’s appeal and revenue during the summer months, consultants have recommended a mountain coaster, a zipline tour and a lift-served mountain biking experience.
It also recommends expanding and remodelling the Ptarmigan restaurant at the top station and reopening the Sheiling at the mid station.
The consultants concluded that the resort does not have a high enough skier capacity to justify the ongoing operational costs involved in running a second base at Coire na Ciste.
It highlights an existing opportunity to provide transport links between Cairngorm and the wider Aviemore area, which would have the added benefit of easing pressure on car parking.
HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said the “excellent” study presents “a long-term vision for Cairngorm, which will be used to prioritise future investment”.
She added: “Clearly £27m, even over 10 years, is a large investment for a single resort, and funding is often the most challenging of all obstacles. However, the report certainly gives us all something to work towards.”
Councillor Bill Lobban, chairman of the funicular response group, said: “The uplift review provides a fantastic, positive view of the potential future for Cairngorm.
“It will, no doubt, be a starting point for wideranging discussions with the local community, businesses and stakeholders all of whom will have their own views as to how we take this crucially important business forward.”
A“If all interested parties think it is worth pursuing they must create a solid united front”
t a time of doom and gloom hanging like low cloud over the Cairngorms caused by the problems besetting its funicular railway, a ray of sunlight suddenly appeared.
Technical issues have shunted the rail link into the sidings for the time being amid fears about the economic knock-on effects. But a new report by US consultants commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise offers an exciting glimpse of the future – if the collective will is there and huge amounts of cash.
An ambitious £27 million vision to reinvent ski operations at Cairngorm Mountain – including new chairlifts, a mountain coaster and a zipline tour – was revealed. It is an extraordinary project which could transform the regional economy.
In a brutally honest assessment of the current visitor package – one with which many would agree – consultants implied it was stuck in the past as it “does not provide a skiing experience that can compete in today’s marketplace”.
Conversely, the £80,000 study highlights “immense unlocked potential that can be unleashed”. Even the funicular could roll back as a non-skier attraction.
What is clear now is that if all interested parties, such as council, government, businesses and communities, think it is worth pursuing they must create a solid united front to make the dream happen.