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CAIRNGORM CRISIS - LOCAL FURY - Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Saturday October 27, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

Instructors at the Scottish ski area have been told there's no work for them this winter. Disabled skiing lessons are also in doubt & a festival is cancelled.

Cairngorm Mountain's funicular railway was closed indefinitely at the start of October for urgent safety checks and repairs.

It is the only way up to the top of the hill.

There are fears the railway will remain closed all winter.

That's now looking increasingly likely with the closure of the Cairngorm Snow School this winter and the loss of more than 50 jobs.

Businesses in Aviemore say this latest development will be devastating for Cairngorm.

People simply won't visit and will to travel to Scotland's other ski areas instead.

Some locals are calling it the death knell for skiing on the mountain.

They are fiercely critical of the leaseholder, Natural Retreats, and the landowner, Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Now there are calls for the Scottish Government to step in to sort out what's being called a 'chaotic shambles'.

While there are other ski schools in the area, the Cairngorm Snow School is by far the biggest.

More than 50 instructors plus the school's administrative staff, who usually begin work in November, will be affected by its closure.

They were told there was no work for them on Friday in an email which has been reproduced on Facebook by Save The Ciste, a campaign group that wants chairlifts on the mountain restored.

The email reads:

Due to the impact of the current closure of the Cairngorm Funicular Railway, it has been decided that whilst we are awaiting the technical report on the status of the Funicular, we will not be operating a snow school this 2018/19 winter season.

I know that this may be difficult for you and we hope that by informing you at the earliest possible opportunity, this will allow you to seek other instructing roles.

As the winter progresses we will be continually assessing the situation and we will keep you all informed.

Should we be in a position to offer you other roles within the company over the winter then we will also keep you informed.

We would like to thank for all of your commitment and hard work in the past and wish you well.

CairngormDark clouds over Cairngorm

The local Member of the Scottish Parliament, Kate Forbes, said on Saturday it comes on top of the funicular problems and significant delays to improvements on the mountain.

She had decided to write to the Chair and Chief Executive of landowners Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and to her colleagues in the Scottish Government to call for a swift and decisive response.

Kate Forbes MSPCalling for swift & decisive action

"Enough is enough. I am dismayed to hear that Natural Retreats has closed the ski school at Cairngorm Mountain - on the first day of snow," she said.

"For a ski resort to choose not to operate a ski school all winter is frankly inexplicable.... to say that Natural Retreat's handling of this is not good enough is to put it very, very mildly."

WinterHighland webcam of Cairngorm mountainSnow on Cairngorm, Saturday 27th October - image from WinterHighland webcam

Alan Brattey of the Aviemore Business Association told PlanetSKI that without dramatic change, there is no future for Cairngorm.

"This chaotic shambles is fully the responsibility of Highlands and Islands Enterprise who've proved to be thoroughly incompetent and only intervention by the Scottish Government can bring about the change of strategic direction that must come now," he told us.

No notification of the closure has been posted on the websites of the operators or owners of the ski area.

On Saturday, the Cairngorm Mountain website was still advertising that bookings for the Snow School would open on 5th November.

CML website pageCairngorm Mountain website - Saturday 27th October

The latest official statement on the site, dated 11th October, says Cairngorm will open for skiing this winter with snow-making equipment used at lower levels to give access to the mountain for beginners.

"Plans are afoot to ensure CairnGorm Mountain is well equipped to welcome skiers and other snowsports enthusiasts this winter," the statement says.

It adds that the owners and operators are "actively exploring all options to deliver the best possible skier experience without the funicular, and ensure the hill is ready for business when the winter snow arrives".

A report on the investigation into the funicular problems is now not expected until early December.

On Monday afternoon (29th October),  Natural Retreats gave us a statement on the situation.

"The decision not to operate the Snow School this season was not taken lightly and we would like to thank everyone at the Snow School for their hard work and commitment," Ewan Kearney, the Chief Operating Officer told us.

"Given the uncertainty surrounding the funicular and the likely knock-on effects to CairnGorm Mountain's carrying capacity, coupled with limited snow cover for lessons, we have made the decision not to operate our own Snow School this winter and focus on supporting the local ski schools in Aviemore.

"We will be listing all local ski schools on the CairnGorm Mountain website."

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has not responded to our request for a comment.

However, at a board meeting on Tuesday (30th October), it agreed to invest in snowmaking at Cairngorm in a bid to save its season.

See our updated article:

Cairngorm funicularCairngorm funicular

The Save the Ciste campaign said the decision to close the school was one of the biggest admissions yet that the Funicular was expected to be out of action all season. 

"What a total disaster for the entire area, and for the livelihoods of the people concerned. If only they'd listened when we'd sounded the alarm bells about the lunacy of removing the Chairlifts. Diabolical.

"The ripple effect from this could now cost the local economy millions. HIE and the mountain operator have repeatedly shown that they are not fit to run the ski area, and should now explain themselves in front of parliament."

There are concerns that the 'ripple effect' has already begun.

On Saturday the organisers of a big annual music and snowsports festival, Groove Cairngorm, announced that it's 2019 event - due to take place in February - had been cancelled.

And three days after instructors at the Snow School were told there was no work for them, the Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) ski school suspended bookings.

It says it's trying to work out how it can operate this winter without the funicular.

DSUK at Cairngorm DSUK at Cairngorm - photo DSUK

"As many of you know, our Cairngorm ski school is close to our hearts, it's where it all began over 40 years ago and is the only mountain in the UK to host a DSUK ski school," said the charity's Chief Executive Mark Kelvin in a statement on social media.

"The safety and enjoyment of DSUK skiers and their families is paramount.

"We are currently exploring how we might be able to deliver skiing on the beautiful Cairngorm mountain without the funicular railway.

"We ask you to please bear with me whilst we work with the staff at Natural Retreats to identify what options are available to us."

This is some of the reaction we've had over the PlanetSKI Facebook page:

PlanetSKI Facebook commentsReaction

And the responses on the Save The Ciste Facebook page to the closure of the Snow School have been vitriolic.

Most of the anger is focused on Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the operators of the ski area, Cairngorm Mountain Ltd (CML)/Natural Retreats:

Henry Orr -  This kills the beginner & novice sector of the snow sports market in Aviemore - it is also the core of Cairngorm market.... game over.

Robert Findlay  - Been skiing on Gorms for 52 years got many friends who have businesses in the village and never thought i would see the day it was as bad as this Dont think i will get my free ski pass for life next year as will probably be out of business by then 😢  hope not

Jennifer Devlin  - What about ski hire? Will that be next - as I assume alot of ski hire comes from ski school lesson bookings? The whole situation worries me for everyone involved directly or indirectly, it has a knock on effect on the whole area for the winter and summer seasons. It will have a big and long term negative effect on the area and people, something has to be done to resolve this situation.

Rex Sircus -  If true this is absolutely shocking and a devastating blow for the local community. Truly inept and shocking management of this once jewel in the crown of Scottish skiing. What more does it take Before HIE and Natural Retreats are removed from any responsibility for Cairngorm Mountain? ..... I live in the area, am a life- member of BASI & have skied at Cairngorm since 1961. I hope this can now lead to the early replacement of these awful management with a community based team such as has been so successful elsewhere.

Peter Lewis - That really is the death knell. No ski school means no beginners and advanced skiers/experts will be heading to Nevis Range, Glencoe etc. anyway. Time for Natural Retreats to be removed as managers and HIE to appoint a new management team with a first priority to build new lifts in the Ciste and on the White Lady. The future of the Spey Valley economy depends on a well run ski centre.

Vicky Macleod - Awful news, it's time for HIE and NR to give up the running to the community. Hope they are hanging their heads in shame over the way they have conducted themselves. Anger is an understatement to how I feel right now 😡

Laura Hansler Ross - "I know this MAYBE difficult", holy hell, what's difficult and particularly galling is that Natural Retreats were ever considered to be qualified and suitable landlords for a snowsports venue and mountain, the local economy will lose millions in what's likely to be a heavy snow winter, it's about time Government ensured that these places werent simply let out to the cowboys with the biggest pockets !!!!!!

David Warnock  - so ski school shut, instructors out of a job, merry Christmas guys, how do they explain to their children Christmas is cancelled this year due to not having a job, hope NR-CAIRNGORM MOUNTAIN-HIE can live with their conscience but then again their attitude is "I'm all right jack" and to hell with everyone else.

Nadia Affara Tighe - The next message will be that they won't be open for skiing - what would be the point? No one in their right mind will go there whilst there are other options.

Terry Smith - So far it is just the ski school that's closed. Officially the hill is still open for skiing but that will only work if there is snow all the way to the daylodge. Given the lacklustre use of snow making equipment by CML before now it's going to take a massive change in attitude to make this work. Not to mention an awful lot of new machines, water and electricity.

Mike Anderson -  Cairngorms will suffer massively and possibly might never recover from this?

Euan Strathearn -  there goes Cairngorm!

Pete Maclean  - That's the end of Cairngorm!

CairngormWhat next for Cairngorm?















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