£27m to ‘un­lock’ ski re­sort’s po­ten­tial

US con­sul­tants un­veil their vi­sion

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - NEWS - BY ALIS­TAIR MUNRO

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.

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