A group of outdoor organisations says it fears Cairngorm ski centre owner Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE) could waste public money on ‘costly and unsustainable’ proposals for the future of the area.
The group, comprising Cairngorms Campaign, North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland and Scottish Wild Land Group, is calling on HIE to make its proposals publicly available before the Scottish Government makes any decision whether to fund them.
Of particular concern to the group is the funicular railway, closed since 2018 and assessed as needing up to £15m for repair.
The group says it is crucial that any future plans should evaluate two scenarios, one with and one without the funicular railway.
Dave Windle of North East Mountain Trust said: ““Skiers have been deserting the mountain since well before the closure of the funicular.
“It’s now clear that the funicular is not even needed to attract summer visitors given the number of tourists flocking to the area this summer when it wasn’t working.
“HIE’s plans must get things right this time or more public money will be wasted, and downhill skiers will continue to go elsewhere.”
Over the period 2004 – 2013, average annual skier days were 78,000 equating to a 41% share of the total Scottish market.
Over the period 2014 -2018, this was down to 60,000 (32% market share), a reduction of 30%.
Mr Windle said: ”Of particular concern is the fact that future costs will not be limited to the £10-£15m estimate for the repair of the funicular but will need to include new ski uplift as well, probably a high speed chair lift, whether or not the funicular is repaired.
“In addition, there is a large backlog of maintenance of the infrastructure, including the Day Lodge and the Ptarmigan buildings.
“On top of that, all previous operators have lost money.”
Rural economy minister Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament recently that a decision on the repair of the funicular is expected shortly, and the business case will be published shortly.
Mr Windle said: “Things need to be different this time, which is why HIE and the government need to be open and transparent.
“Local skiing enthusiasts have better ideas on how to get skiers back to Cairngorm.”
“We recognise and share the very strong desire expressed by many different groups to achieve an outcome at Cairngorm that is both environmentally and economically sustainable and will generate significant benefits for the area and its business community.
HIE says it has shared the Cairngorm business case with Scottish Government, and is now close to finalising it.
An HIE spokesman said: “Once this is done, we will publish as much detail we can, including costs.
“This is a complex and thorough technical exercise that includes examining in detail the full range of options for dealing with the funicular, namely removal, replacement, or reinstatement. ”
The enterprise agency said it had consulted widely with local and national stakeholders when it commissioned a study of the lift infrastructure in 2018.
“Their reports concluded unequivocally that the funicular is a unique asset at Cairngorm, with particular appeal to non-skiing visitors.
“At the same time as progressing the business case, we have held two rounds of public consultation this year to help shape a new vision and masterplan for Cairngorm.”