The Ciste Gully should be the best lift served run in Scotland at present

If the West Wall Chairlift was operable and the boardwalk replaced either with a path or new walkway then the Ciste Gully would currently be the best lift served offering in Scotland at present.


It was no accident the chairlifts were sited where they are and the boardwalk built, the natural snowfields in Coire na Ciste converge in the Ciste Gully at the bottom of  No2 Gully on the East Wall, by locating the chairlift out of the Gully but below the crest of the ridge the West Wall Chairlift is neither exposed to risk of avalanche or burial, nor to the full force of the wind.

With an operating hydro scheme reducing water flow and thus undercutting by the Allt na Ciste the Ciste Gully would be skiable even more often, filling in easier and lasting longer, the deep sidewalls protecting the snowpack from warm winds and driving rain.

Such a micro-hydro run of river scheme is part of our proposals for reinvigorating CairnGorm Mountain by transforming Coire na Ciste from a dilapidated shambles to a sensitively redeveloped year round activity hub, that is no longer merely the place ‘overyonder’ but a major component of the mountain business. Both increasing winter capacity to get skiers and snowboarders on the mountain in good times, increasing range of terrain likely to be available in lean seasons and making a substantial contribution to making the mountain business economically sustainable year round.


Capacity unused as Half Term skiers turned away

During the first week of the half term period snowsports ticket sales were suspended on several days because of limited uplift and terrain, on other days the limited offering made demand self limiting – but both have the same outcome potential snowsports customers disappointed and revenue that could have been taken by the mountain business lost permanently.

So what if there was a good long Red Run served by a chairlift that could accommodate around 200 extra snowsports customers on the mountain, while making the offering significantly more attractive to customers? Well actually there was such a run, the Ciste Gully and as seen in this photo taken on Wednesday 15th February was complete to well below the level of the old boardwalk back to the West Wall Chairlift (indicated by the red line).


With replacement of the largely ruinous snow fencing on the upper leg of the Laogh Mor Return further advanced terrain in the East Wall Gullies would have been available, while our proposed Bynack Traverse would given the direct direction likely have allowed the M2/Overyonder route to be skied off the West Wall Chairlift providing intermediate terrain as well as advanced terrain.

Even where the new rail fencing is in place on the West Wall Poma, the uptrack was not complete as the strongest winds were blowing too parallel to the fences scouring any snow that did lie along the single fenceline. Even in the depth of winter, the West Wall Poma can be inoperable due to lack of snow when the Ciste Gully and other runs in the Ciste could be open and served by the West Wall Chairlift.

Without the Chairlifts CairnGorm Mountain is no longer a complete snowsports area. Access to advanced terrain is reduced and significantly compromised reducing the appeal of CairnGorm Mountain to that segment of the market (as witnessed by increasing market share at Glencoe, Glenshee and Nevis Range over recent years). Further the West Wall Poma is a very steep and challenging surface lift, it is unsuitable on it’s own to serve the blue graded intermediate M2 & OverYonder Runs.


Coire na Ciste has a lot to offer the mountain business in difficult seasons

With snow now falling it’s worth a look back over the first two months of meteorological winter and what Coire na Ciste could have offered to the viability of the mountain business and could do again in similar scenarios.

There has been an exceptional run of benign weather through autumn and the first 2 months of winter, such that had it been operational the Ciste Chairlift would only have been closed on a handful of days.

With the dryslope that we are proposing that would have provided for 70 days of beginner lessons since the mid November snowfall, with more capacity when on snow teaching was also available. With snowsports school classes organised in 2 hour blocks the slope could also have been used for tubing which would have been extremely popular over the festive period. This would have provided a steady availability of work for at least some instructors who have had very little to date.

Our proposals include sensitive eco-friendly camping pods and microlodge style accommodation in a small sheltered area of moraine adjacent to the Ciste carpark. Christmas and New Year is one of the busiest periods for accommodation providers in the area and occupancy at least matching the 86% achieved at Glencoe without skiing over the festive period could be expected.

One other aspect of our proposals for redeveloping Coire na Ciste is snow making. The sheltered terrain on the floor of the Coire and lower Aonach would have seen very slow melt of machine made snow in the largely benign weather over the past 2 months. The attached image shows snow from one TechnoAlpin T40 made at the bottom of the Gunbarrel in Coire Cas earlier in January which survived through until the new snow arrived in the past week.

Lack of snowfall rather than temperature has been the issue in January, with the month returning an anomaly for Scotland of +1.5ºc with respect to the 61-90 average, exactly the same as January 2014 which saw huge snowfalls.

Snow making pile

From observations of weather and correlation with past data modelling from the SSC Hut AWS we estimate that a minimum of 42 days of on snow skiing with a 1km piste off the full length of the Ciste Chair could have been achieved with an installed snow making system. Research by former Mountain Manager Bob Clyde into slope capacity on CairnGorm combined with research from elsewhere indicates that this are could accommodate up to 235 skiers with little or no queuing providing quality catering facilities are available such that not all customers are on the slope at one time and approximately 300 with a 3 to 4 minute wait.


Snow making technology has moved on massively in recent years, quite simply the old rules don’t apply any more and the potential is there to be transformational in how CairnGorm is used for snowsports and for the Scottish Snowsports industry as a whole.


A Thank You…

Save the Ciste would like to say a huge thank you to all who came along to the Cairngorm Hotel on Tuesday evening for our presentation and discussion on ‘Rethinking CairnGorm Mountain’.

Ciste Chair & Gully
This photo of the Ciste Chair and Gully were taken the following morning. From the SSC weather station data around 150 hours of snow making would have been possible since the mild blip on Mon 14th November.

That means that had the proposals STC outlined on Tuesday evening already been in place, the Ciste Chair, dedicated sheltered low level learning area and the lower Ciste Gully from the Chairlift interchange to the Carpark would have been open for lift served snowsports from mid-week.

With modern automated snowmaking the old rules don’t apply anymore, the best place to make snow is where it will suffer least ablation in mild / wet and/or windy thaws. The relatively sheltered nature of the steep sided yet gentle lower slopes of Coire na Ciste fit that bill very well.


Presentation @ Cairngorm Hotel Tue 22nd Nov

CairnGorm Mountain is being left behind – with economic consquences for the whole of Strathspey.

Alone out of Scotland’s five commercial resorts in lacking an operational chairlift, this will be even more the case with new uplift at Glenshee and Glencoe – both of which are closer to Scotlands core population centres.

New Cairnwell Chairlift

New Cairnwell Chairlift

We believe it is time to rethink CairnGorm Mountain for the benefit not just of skiers and boarders, but the whole of Strathspey.

At 7pm on Tuesday 22nd November we will give a presentation on a developing alternative stategey for CairnGorm that seeks to improve the visitor experience for all by sympathetically redeveloping Coire na Ciste as an integral part of an enhanced mountain business. This will be followed by an open discussion on the future direction of visitor facilities on CairnGorm.

We would love you to join us and fellow skiers, snowboarders, local community and local businesses at the Cairngorm Hotel, Aviemore on Tuesday (22nd Nov), but due to the presentation nature of the event spaces are limited.

Thus we ask that you please indicate your interest in attending through requesting free tickets for the event (see below) or email to confirm spaces. Doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start.


“The economic heart of our largest national park continues its downhill spiral”

Last Friday, Dave Morris former director of Ramblers Scotland had a letter published in the Herald newspaper titled “Time for the Scottish Government to take action to bring about rural prosperity”. The full text of the letter can be read on Herald website.

There is much discussion at present about further Land Reform and the opportunities it could present for improved economic prosperity and indeed environmental enhancements. Below follows a section of the letter that relates directly to the ongoing situation on CairnGorm Mountain:

In 1971 a disastrous decision by the UK Government led to the transfer of nearly 1,500 hectares of the upper slopes of Glenmore National Forest Park from Forestry Commission ownership to Highlands and Islands Development Board, the HIE predecessor body. Today the First Minister can see the result of so-called stewardship of this iconic tract of land by HIDB/HIE – abandoned ski tows and chairlifts, derelict and decaying buildings, collapsed and rotting snow fences and zero possibility that her public agency knows how to plan for the future. The economic heart of our largest national park continues its downhill spiral. Ms Sturgeon needs only a brief exposure to HIE’s incompetence in mountain land management to realise this land must be returned to the Forestry Commission (FC) as soon as possible. We need integrated planning and operations, from the lowest to the highest slopes of Cairn Gorm, by the public body which has been managing land in the Cairngorms since 1923; even better if the FC can also establish a community development trust to involve local and national stakeholders in its management of the whole Forest Park.

Chairlift Drive Station

The Coire na Ciste Chairlift Drive Station.


Broadening the Summer appeal of CairnGorm Mountain

The Ciste Chairlifts would significantly broaden the summer offering and appeal of CairnGorm Mountain. As well as spectacular scenic chair rides, the chairs uniquely provide an opportunity for lift assisted hiking (including option of chair up, train down and some gentle hiking in-between).


The Ciste Chair would provide access to the interpretation centre and small cafe at the proposed hydro turbine house and access to summer activities on the proposed adjacent dryslope hidden within the shelter of the lower Ciste. Summer beginner lessons and summer tubing could be a major attraction. Plus significant potential for future mountain bike trails both above and below the tree line with the Ciste base serving as the trail hub.


‘More powder days than park days’

‘I’ve had more powder days than park days this year think I’ve had 2 park days in total’ was a comment left on Facebook. Natural Retreats say they have a vision for world class Terrain Park and Half Pipe facilities on CairnGorm Mountain, but even if such a park is built – it has to be maintained and available for use.

Halfpipe Cutter
That is the problem with the Ptarmigan Bowl and above for such facilities – winter storms often prevent any Ptarmigan Park until well into Spring and attempts to cut the Marquis Well halfpipe ended with a level slope after the wind got up and filled it back in.

Even when the park can be built, strong winds and poor visibility make hitting large park features dangerous and as a result the Ptarmigan Park is often closed due to visibility and/or wind.

Machine Packed Powder on the Lower Aonach, below the WWP in March 2013.

Save the Ciste believes the lower Aonach Bowl, sheltered by the high sidewalls of Coire na Ciste from the worst of CairnGorm’s weather provides a much more suitable location for a quality terrain park which can be maintained through out the core of the season.

Snow Making on the lower mountain.

Improved fencing, coupled with modern snow making would allow the creation of an excellent terrain park on the lower Aonach out onto the Coire floor. As well as shelter from the worst of the wind, this elevation is rarely in cloud compared to the Ptarmigan Bowl and as such park facilities would be usable on many days on the lower Aonach where overhead conditions would prevent use of the Ptarmigan Park.

Our numerical modelling of snow making vs melt rates indicate that a modern snow making system could average over 100 days of skiable cover on the Lower Aonach, indeed the shelter from the worst mountain weather also helps to alleviate the rate of thaw in mild & windy conditions. Around the world a robust modern snow making system located on suitable and as sheltered as possible terrain is as much the corner stone of successful high quality terrain parks as the latest Piste Bashers, pipe cutters and other shaping tools.


Rethinking Coire na Ciste to reinvigorate CairnGorm Mountain

We are pleased to announce the summary of our proposals for the re-development of Coire na Ciste. It took a bit longer than we expected – everything has been done by volunteer effort and we’re grateful to numerous companies and individuals who’ve given their time to get this proposal to where it is.
We’ve been very sensitive to the necessity of having a commercially viable proposition and appropriate year round use has therefore been at the forefront of our thinking. One of the key points in the 2011 strategic review of Scottish Snowspnorts by HIE was that diversification must be appropriate and carefully thought out such that the diversification does not in itself add financially burdensome niche markets.

Notwithstanding issues connected with planning consent and capital requirements, the phasing of the re-development proposals is something that would have to be carefully considered by the operator – a particularly big decision needed early is whether to reinstate the West Wall or Coire na Ciste Chair first.

We are aware that there will be a number of readers who regard the current situation as being an opportunity for removal of all infrastructure from Coire na Ciste to improve the mountain environment. However, the terminal loss of Coire na Ciste would be hugely detrimental to the future potential of CairnGorm Mountain and would see local businesses throughout the Strath suffer as skiers and boarders abandon CairnGorm Mountain in search of more challenging terrain.

Save the Ciste agrees that Coire na Ciste is currently a mess that is unacceptable for a mountain at the heart of one of Europe’s largest National Parks, however this is largely down to the dilapidations and debris within the Ciste and that re-developing the previously developed area, can greatly improve the visual appearance of the Coire and provide a welcoming base for visitors to the Eastern side of CairnGorm. An enhanced footpath network will address some potential issues of erosion in and around the Ciste, by channeling hill goers on a robust track/path rather than numerous poorly defined and increasingly braided boggy routes. It is also worth noting that built snowsports infrastructure is regularly used for cover from predicators and shelter by mountain birds and mammals, ptarmigan families are regularly seen huddled against snow fences.

Our proposed redevelopment is summarised as follows: could be as follows:

  1. Construction of a carefully sited access track from the Ciste carpark base station to the chairlift interchange at mid-station. (This will also provide in part for an alternative ski route to the Ciste Base).
  2. Re-commissioning of the Ciste Chair. This would incorporate a mid-line loading/unloading station at approx 600m from the base station. The top station download/upload would be re-engineered to enable walk off/walk on downloading/uploading [rather than the download ramp that was in use in the past]
  3. Construction of a small scale Hydro plant [90kW]. The intake dam [grated for safety] would be at a level just below where Gully No1 joIns the Allt na Ciste. The power house would be built on the coire floor at approx 650m from the Ciste base station.
  4. The power house would incorporate a turbine viewing gallery, environmental education centre together with a servery and seating area that would double up as a ski school meeting room, in winter. Toilets would also be
  5. A Kassbohrer garage and associated workshop to be unobtrusively built into the [west] side of the coire….in proximity to the mid-line loading area.
  6. A snowsports learning zone. This would be located immediately downhill from the power house and would be served by a rope tow.Kids Learning Zone
  7. An early learners piste [served by snowmaking] would run down to the ciste carpark steps…a distance of approx 650m with a slope of around 6 degrees. Some re-engineering of the burn course and water diversion associated with the Hydro Electric scheme to deal with safety issues regarding the Allt na Ciste through the narrow lower gully.Lower Ciste Gully
  8. A neveplast slope on the West side of the coire…adjacent to the Ciste chair mid line loading area. This slope would be 60m long by 30m wide initially and would be served by a magic carpet running up the centre and with a rope tow at one edge. The slope would be capable of being extended to 100m+ at a later stage. In addition, there would be a flat area at the bottom, for standing classes.
  9. A snow-park, served by snowmaking, in the area of the lower Aonach. The would be lift served by the Ciste chair with uplift from the mid-line loading area.Machine Packed Powder on the Lower Aonach, below the WWP in March 2013.
    A fenced piste from the Aonach passing above the top of the NevePlast slope and on to the Ciste base station. This would provide an alternative piste to the carpark and also provide for ski in/ski out accommodation, [when conditions allow].
  10. The re-commissioning of the WW Chair, with re-modelled terminals to remove existent steel gantries and to provide walk on / walk off downloading for less experienced skiers & boarders + non skiing visitors.
  11. A new boardwalk to be constructed…..of stone, metal or wood…..this is essential for the future of snowsports within Coire na Ciste, even without the re-development proposals being taken up.
  12. A new Ciste base station. The design and scale can only be planned once a decision has been made about the proposals.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  13. Accommodation to be built on the Moraine bank to the right of the Ciste base station [as you look up the Coire] This area is capable of having up to 25 Hobbit style lodges. The small lochan here would be developed as a feature.
  14. Campervan Hook Up’s. About 15 in number.
  15. A Zip slide. [site and length to be decided]
  16. Mountain Biking… be discussed/decided……but only incorporated at a later phase of development and should be coordinated with Glenmore projects to provide an integrated mountain and forest mountain bike trail centre with the Ciste Base and Carpark as the focal point and trail head facilities.
  17. In addition, we are proposing that floodlights would be installed on the Ciste Chair towers and on the NevePlast slope. This would make evening snowsports and lessons possible on a planned basis. It would also extend the ski day further up the Ciste when days are shortest by giving more time for people to return to the Carpark.

Footpath network within and from Coire na Ciste

It’s our view that it would also make good sense to have a properly constructed path built on the east side of the Allt na Ciste, adjacent to the burn. This would cross the Alt na Ciste to tie into the boardwalk and make a circular path by returning to the Ciste base station via the access track (with a coffee stop at the power house servery, perhaps).

In addition sections of path to provide a fully integrated network from / within Coire na Ciste:

  • The footpath which climbs from the Laogh Mor boardwalk steps up above the lower East Wall should be extended to tie into the top of the West Wall Chairlif and footpath to the Ptarmigan Restaurant.
  • The old skiers path which is still just traceable across the Aonach Bowl should be reinstated to link the mid-station of Coire na Ciste to the Windy Ridge Footpath – and thus to the Daylodge and Coire na Ciste Carpark.
  • Potential future ‘nature walk’ along the tree line to Lochan na Beinnie.

We were in touch with NR senior management in early December and we’d like to give them some further time to get back to us with a date/time for meeting to discuss the projected costs before we publish them.


Have you say on shaping CairnGorm’s future – Week commencing Mon 26th Oct

Next week (commencing Mon 26th Oct) skiers and snowboarders have an opportunity to have their say on the shape of things to come on CairnGorm Mountain as CML and Natural Retreats launch a series of consultations over a development plan that initially at least will centre on replacement of the Daylodge base building in Coire Cas.


What would your priority be for improving CairnGorm? Would you like to see the chairs back in operation, would you like to see base facilities restored in Coire na Ciste before any disruption caused by a several season long building program at Coire Cas?

Pop along to one of the open days, the more skiers and boarders that go along, the more snowsports input there will be. The dates and times of the open days are:

  • Mon 26th Oct @ the Cairngorm Hotel – 1pm to 9pm
  • Tue 27th Oct @ the Cairngorm Hotel – 11.30 to 7pm
  • Wed 28th Oct @ CairnGorm Mountain (Aonach Room) – 11.30 to 7pm
  • Wed 4th Nov @ CairnGorm Mountain (Aonach Room) – 11.30 to 7pm

More details about CMLs pre planning application plans are available at: