Technical issues with the new £1million snow machines on CairnGorm Mountain have now emerged – as options for the future of the funicular railway will be known “within weeks”.
The funicular closed in October amid serious safety concerns over its supporting structure and resort owners Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) provided a state-of-the-art snow factory to compensate for loss of business at the troubled resort.
HIE took over operations of the ski centre after previous operators Natural Retreats plunged into administration in December.
When the funicular was put out of action a detailed investigation by specialist contractors COWI found essential work was needed to strengthen the piers, beams and foundations, and install new bearings with higher load and movement capacity.
In an update issued yesterday, HIE said: “[COWI] is now helping HIE review future options, including estimated costs and timescales for repair works.
“HIE expects to receive information on potential options within the next few weeks.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government enterprise agency revealed: “Engineers from TechnoAlpin, manufacturer of the Snowfactory, arrived on site from Tuesday to investigate technical issues that have affected the snow making equipment.
“They are now addressing two key issues – how best to filter water coming into the machine, and ensuring safe access for staff to carry out a range of maintenance tasks themselves.”
Strathspey councillor Bill Lobban said that while there were teething problems with the snow machines they would prove to be a “real benefit for Cairn Gorm Mountain for future seasons”, whether or not there was a funicular.
He added: “HIE taking over the mountain and keeping it running is the best thing to happen in the short term.
“It has to be kept viable for the future and investment has to come from somewhere.”
Meanwhile, recruitment for a permanent chief executive of the subsidiary operating company, known as Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Ltd CMSL) is currently being planned.
The agency’s Susan Smith will take over the role in the interim, with HIE saying: “She will maintain ongoing work to stabilise the business and focus on options to establish a new summer offering for visitors that is not dependent on the funicular railway.
The statement added: “The planning application to expand and improve the Ptarmigan top station remains live. It is due to be considered by the Cairngorms National Park Authority in April or May.
“If the plan is approved, CMSL will then review whether this option remains attractive and feasible, as part of a new strategy for the business.”