Enterprise, business and council chiefs have created a crack response team to deal with the consequences of the breakdown of the funicular railway as a new ski season looms.
Cairngorm will be open and ready for snowsports this winter – but conditions will be challenging without the funicular, the operators have admitted.
The mountain railway is currently closed due to safety concerns, meaning that skiers need to use tows to get to the pistes – but the tows rely on having snow at the lower levels.
Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) which owns the land and leases it to the company Natural Retreats to be operated by Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, refused to confirm or deny that the railway would be out of action for the whole season.
But in a lengthy press release, they outlined options to cope without the railway, including pumping in artificial snow to lower levels – and offering advice and support to businesses affected by the uncertainty.
Ewan Kearney of Natural Retreats said: “There is no doubt that this is going to be a challenging season, but we have operated for skiing without the funicular in prior winters, and are confident that with additional planning and resource we will be able to continue to offer great skiing this winter as well.”
HIE has pulled together a new response team with Cairngorm Mountain Ltd and other key parties including Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust, Aviemore Business Association, Cairngorm Mountain Trust, Cairngorm Business Partnership, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Highland Council, Snowsport Scotland and VisitScotland to tackle the impact of the funicular’s closure.
An HIE spokeswoman said: “A key component of the plan will be the potential to utilise snow making equipment at lower levels, making the mountainside accessible for beginners, and reducing congestion in other high traffic areas.
“Earlier this year, HIE supported trials of snow making technology at three of Scotland’s ski centres – Cairngorm, the Lecht and Glencoe – with generally positive results.”
HIE and the Highland Council also committed to supporting local businesses that might be affected by the present situation, including offering one-to-one advice, and access to loan funding, where appropriate, through Highland Opportunity.
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The response team members also agreed to work together on a programme of marketing and communications ‘to ensure that the local community and mountain sport enthusiasts are kept informed of developments, and to promote a strong message more widely that Cairngorm and Strathspey are open for business.”
Highland Council’s convener, local councillor Bill Lobban chaired the response team meeting.
He said: “I was really impressed that everyone who attended shared a very positive attitude and a strong desire to work together to achieve a way forward at Cairngorm.
“We all agree that snowsports play a vital role in the economy of Aviemore and the wider Badenoch and Strathspey area, and it is in the whole community’s interest that Cairngorm is a successful attraction.”
HIE’s chief executive Charlotte Wright said this week’s response team meeting was the first of several to come.
She said: “It brought forward a variety of great ideas that will form the basis of an action plan for HIE and our partners to take forward over the coming weeks and months.
“As well as addressing the current urgent situation, there was also a strong appetite to look to the longer term, and work towards a shared vision for Cairngorm and Badenoch and Strathspey as a leading ski centre.”
Local councillor Muriel Cockburn promised to monitor developments closely.
She said: “I am deeply concerned as to the potentially devastating impact on our ‘working poor’, seasonal employees and their families as well as our local businesses.
The ‘hill’ is central to our winter economy.’