An ambitious £27million, 10-year vision to revamp ski operations at Cairngorm Mountain – including new chairlifts, a mountain coaster and a 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 for all year-round business.
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A comprehensive review of facilities at the resort was commissioned prior to the crisis surrounding last month’s shutdown of the funicular railway, 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 ski-ing 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 Susan Smith, HIE’s head of business.
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 out of the Coire Cas base area – one with a 3,200 people per hour (pph) lift capacity and a second with 3,000 pph.
The proposed improvements – 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 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 doesn’t 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.
Charlotte Wright, HIE chief executive, 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 ten 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, chair 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 wide-ranging 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.”
The full report
Highlands and Islands Enterprise may edit “commercially sensitive information” from the uplift report before finally publishing it.
The Press and Journal requested a copy of the report yesterday but were told it wasn’t possible to release it yet.
A spokesman said: “The full report is still in draft form.
“The findings are not going to change however, so rather than delay, we finalised the executive summary and published it in order to share the findings, along with an animation video to illustrate the recommendations.
“We do hope to be able to publish the full report when it is finalised. There is information in it that is likely to be commercially sensitive, so that will need to be reviewed prior to publication.”