How a tiny village became the jewel of the Highlands
THE small Speyside village had already been on the tourist radar for decades when the first hardy skiers arrived in Aviemore.
The arrival of a railway in the late 1880s brought the tiny community its first taste of just how lucrative the emerging tourism sector could be.
For the first skiers, enjoying the crisp mountain snow meant trudging uphill with skis strapped to their backs. Scotland’s first ski lift in Glencoe, in 1956, was a game-changer.
On December 23, 1961, Cairngorm’s White Lady chairlift, the first mechanised uplift on Cairngorm mountain and reputed to be the world’s first detachable chairlift, carried its first skiers on a chilly 40-minute journey to the top of the hill.
Hatched by a group of friends from the Glasgow shipyards, all members of the Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club, it launched Aviemore as a winter sport hub.
By the mid-1960s, Cairngorm’s network of chairlift, poma and T-bar tows made it one of the world’s most highly developed ski areas, and Aviemore an exciting holiday destination.
Lord Allander, of the House of Fraser chain of department stores, poured millions into creating a Highland playground resort. Concrete buildings in the village centre were not particularly attractive by today’s standards, but were ahead of their time combining accommodation, ice rink, go-karts, swimming and Scotland’s first purposebuilt retail park in a single location.
A generation of Scottish children grew up fascinated by Santa Claus Land. Unveiled in the mid-1970s, it offered funfair rides, meetings with local man George Swinney, whose feathery white beard and jovial nature sent little ones home convinced they had just delivered their Christmas list to the man himself.
But by the late 1990s, Santa Claus Land – by then a mismatch of inflatable Father Christmas, funfair rides, a model railway and a plastic dinosaur – seemed to sum up an area on its knees.
Concerned that jobs were at risk and the area was on a downward slide, £4.5 million of European money was found to prop it up.
At the heart of the rejuvenation plans was to replace the White Lady chairlift with a new funicular railway that would bring income to the mountain all year around.
Now, as attention focuses on Aviemore’s future, it once again appears that the only way to go is up.