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New dry ski slope, 360 viewing platform and bigger restaurant to turn CairnGorm into world class resort

The Ptarmigan Restaurant
The Ptarmigan Restaurant

A new artificial slope could be opened at the country’s busiest snowsports resort by the end of the year to turn it into a “world class” attraction.

The £4million plans unveiled by CairnGorm Mountain – which also include a new wrap-around viewing platform and doubling the size of its restaurant – could create up to 45 jobs.

Under the scheme, resort operator Natural Retreats said the exhibition and shop at the Ptarmigan building on the mountain would also be “relocated and improved”.

A planning application is due to be lodged this summer, with work expected to start later in the year on the artificial ski slope, using “the latest high performance technology”.

Natural Retreats hope it could even be completed in time for the winter season, with the upgrade of the Ptarmigan facilities to follow next year.

A review of all ski-lifts and tows will also be carried out with a view to a potential overhaul over the next five years, while calls to open the restaurant at night will be considered.

The investment was hailed last night as having the potential to turn the attraction into a “world class facility” that can bring tourists to the Highlands all-year round.

Proposals for major revamp of CairnGorm have been discussed and revised over several years and the operator is now finally ready to progress the plans.

The move to create an artificial slope emerged as Scotland’s snowsports sector recovers from one of its worst seasons in recent memory.

Ewan Kearney, chief operating officer at Natural Retreats, said: “It’s fantastic. We’re really, really pleased. It has been the culmination of about 18 months of hard work by the team. I’m absolutely thrilled that we can now move this forward.

“I think if we had the artificial slope in place this year we would have been able to fulfill significantly more skier trips and visitor experiences than we were able to this year.

“We had to cancel 2,000 lessons in the last year which we wouldn’t have had to. We want people to leave CairnGorm with a ten-out-of-ten experience.”

The work has been made possible by a £4million loan from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the mountain’s funicular railway, and the revamped facilities will cost the operator about £500,000 a year to maintain.

Natural Retreats hit the headlines last month amid reports that it was consulting staff on job losses, but Mr Kearney said only one post would be affected by the review and the upgrade would create many new jobs and extend the working period of staff.

“With this new project, it will create an additional 35 to 45 jobs, and will allow us to retain a number of employees all year round,” he said.

The capacity of the restaurant at the Ptarmigan building would expand from 100 to 200, with a larger viewing platform created at the mountain’s top station.

Asked about plans to open up the restaurant at night, Mr Kearney said: “There’s a consideration of that. That’s definitely something we want to do in the future.”

Janette Jansson, general manager at CairnGorm Mountain, welcomed yesterday’s announcement.

“This is the news we’ve been waiting for. We’re looking forward to progressing with our plans and working with the local community on making these a reality,” she said.

Charlotte Wright, interim chief executive at HIE, said: “We very much welcome these proposals from Natural Retreats. They will improve the sustainable tourism offering available in and around Aviemore and the Cairngorms.

“They will expand the season and drive further growth from this key visitor attraction. This in turn will increase visitor numbers, generate year-round income and provide security for employees.

“Importantly, it will support an industry that attracts young people, both as employees and as customers.”

Previous proposals for the site, including turning it into a mountain biking destination and fitting in zip wires, have been dropped from the masterplan.

Local MP Drew Hendry said: “This level of infrastructure investment will go a long way to ensuring that the Mountain competes as a world class facility, making Aviemore the year round tourist destination we all want to see.

“It is the kind of development local residents and businesses have been calling for and I know they will be delighted that their voices have been heard.”