A busy and exciting week ahead for the Save the Ciste campaign. On Thursday several members of the campaign will be meeting with Natural Retreats and giving a presentation on options and concepts for the redevelopment of Coire na Ciste.
The objective is not to simply re-instate as was, but to bring the Ciste Chairlifts back into service as part of an integrated phased development that seeks to improve CairnGorm Mountain’s offering both in winter and year round by more fully realising the fantastic potential of Coire na Ciste.
Many think of Coire na Ciste as an area for only advanced skiers and borders. However we will also this week be having a meeting with some local Snowsport Instructors to explore the potential options for providing enhanced learning facilities in the lower and most sheltered parts of Coire na Ciste. These areas would be supported by a modern snow making system, with access from the Coire na Ciste Chairlift’s new intermediate station (which will also provide an effective replacement for the decommissioned Aonach Poma for more experienced riders).
We’ll post updates later in the week.
Natural Retreats have partly removed the Coire na Ciste boardwalk which had fallen into a state of disrepair and been partially demolished early summer by CML. Despite the majority of the boardwalk being removed, a large amount of broken detritus (posts, wire, nails, and boarding) has been left on the hillside, and we today ask the operator to urgently address and clear up this dangerous mess prior to it being covered by snow.
The boardwalk provided the vital safe link across the steep heathery slopes off the lower West Wall to connect the snow-sure natural ski runs of Coire na Ciste with the uplift infrastructure, enabling Coire na Ciste to remain open well into the springtime. The Ciste Gully has been kept closed on numerous occasions in the past few seasons due to ‘safety concerns’ regards skiers crossing the lower West Wall in order to return to the WWP.
The boardwalk existed for a reason and we therefore call on the operator to announce to their customers the plans they will no doubt have for the replacement of this essential piece of infrastructure.
Following the disappointment of Wednesday 8 October we received an apology from the Chief Operating Officer at Natural Retreats regarding the cancelled meeting.
Following further email discussions we are happy to report that Natural Retreats have today confirmed a new meeting with them on Thursday 27 November 2014.
In the meantime the campaign team continues to explore potential ways forward in Coire na Ciste and team members have been studying hundreds of old Chairlift Company and CairnGorm related documents for useful information in building a coherent vision for how Coire na Ciste can be redeveloped in a both economically and environmentally sustainable way.
SavetheCiste believes that regeneration of Coire na Ciste offers unique opportunities to put CML on a more sustainable financial footing while delivering enhancements that will bring benefits for all snowsports customers, expert or novice, whether they start their day in Coire na Ciste or Coire Cas.
We will keep you updated, thanks for your continuing support – please continue to spread the word about our e-petition, every voice helps.
The campaign is disappointed to report that today’s scheduled meeting regarding the future of Coire na Ciste was called off by Natural Retreats at the eleventh hour.
The scheduled meeting date of 8 October 2014 was agreed with Natural Retreats management in early September. This morning at 08:53hrs on the scheduled day of the meeting we received email communication which said: “I am looking forward to travelling up to Cairn Gorm to be there for either 21 or 22 October.
Meanwhile, the campaign team remain undeterred, and we will continue to develop the proposals which will be put into the public domain in the near future.
Thank you to those of the local ski community who came along to the Doo Below in Aviemore last night for a chat with a few of the campaign team about the future of Coire na Ciste. We will be able to pass on the positive feedback when we meet with Natural Retreats on Wednesday and will post further information later this week.
Progress is continuing with developing the campaign’s outline proposals for the phased redevelopment of Coire na Ciste, and the Save the Ciste Campaign are preparing for a further meeting with Natural Retreats – the new owners of CairnGorm Mountain Limited during the second week of October.
Prior to this, we would like to extend an open invitation to all interested persons to meet with a few of the Save the Ciste team informally in a popular Aviemore ski pub, the Doo Below on the evening of Monday 6th October, we’ll be there for a couple of hours from 7.30pm. We’d love to chat to as many interested skiers, snowboards and also mountain bikers as possible with regards their thoughts and ideas on the redevelopment of Coire na Ciste.
We look forward to seeing you there.
In our previous blog post we made mention of the potential for a new dedicated terrain park area on the lower half of the Aonach Bowl, a run which is currently only partly lift served due to the loss of the Aonach Poma and non-operation of the Coire na Ciste Chairlift.
Snow Making on the lower mountain.
The full length of the Aonach is many a people’s favourite for the variety it offers in one run. Sadly this has been a run that’s only been possible in recent years when it’s been possible to ski to the Ciste Carpark via the Ciste Gully – always a rare treat due to a combination of it’s lower altitude and it’s relative shelter.
However the data collected for snow making research in Coire Cas shows that this area has great potential, with uplift provided by a new mid-line loading station on the Coire na Ciste Chairlift around 100 to 150m below where the former Aonach Poma terminated.
SavetheCiste believes not only would this bring the full length of the delightful Aonach Run back into regular use, but it’s sheltered location compared to most of the mountain makes it an ideal location for aiming to fulfil one of Natural Retreats key visions for CairnGorm Mountain, which is the provision of top notch Terrain Parks. Snow making is used extensively in park construction around the world, the control over the type of snow produced enabling the right building material for the job in hand.
Van's Rail in the Ptarmigan Bowl in late Spring.
A significant Terrain Park in the shelter of the lower Aonach would be easier to maintain due to less stormy conditions. Such a park would also be less affected by high winds and poor visibility from low cloud, which restricts use of the Ptarmigan Park at the top of the mountain. The capacity of the Ciste Chair which historically was principally an access lift with relatively little use throughout the day except in exceptional conditions would be better utilised, the Aonach Park would thus be directly lift served, while having the crucial benefit for all users in reducing congestion in the Ptarmigan Bowl, where queues for the Ptarmigan Tow can be particularly lengthy.
We do not envisage this being the sole park location, but we do see it potentially as the mainstream park that is most suitable for the largest range of users and at this very early stage would consider an early intermediate line and an upper intermediate to advanced line – running side by side. The Ptarmigan Bowl due to it’s terrain and huge snow trapping potential would remain the obvious place for large expert kickers particularly later in the season and the Sheiling Tow has proven itself to be an excellent location for novice freestyle features over the past couple of seasons.
SaveTheCiste would greatly welcome feedback and contributions from those who would wish to use such facilities and those with a keen interest in competitive freestyle events and/or those with experience of building and maintaining high end terrain parks.
It’s good to be able to report that Natural Retreats forwarded a copy of the consultants report with respect to the possibilty of developing Mountain Biking in the lower Ciste.
We took advantage of the good weather today and made a site visit into Coire na Ciste. We wanted to have a good look at how the Mountain Biking proposals fit in with everything else. It was clear to us that the these proposals have considerable merit and would have good potential for bringing in new summer revenue. That fits in very well with the view that year round use is the way forward for making a viable business case for Chairlift reinstatement.
These plans will be sympathetically added in to the overall plan. We also looked at the CML proposal to increase the length of the Ciste Chair but it is Save the Ciste’s continued view that this would increase reconstruction costs disproportionately to any actual benefit, which would provide minimal recreational gain, indeed would have some downsides and certainly no increased revenue for the additional spend.
We also took the opportunity to look at the potential site for a Hydro scheme Turbine plant house as well as where the burn would have to be dammed so that water could be piped into the turbine. The consultants report makes it very clear that a significant return on investment would accrue from such a scheme and it is our view that this should be done. Consequently, a small scale Hydro development will be included in the overall plan.
Meteorological data that was collected in Coire Cas in support of the case for snowmaking there has made it clear that skiing/boarding in the lower Aonach would be possible on over 100 days in an average season, with snowmaking. Accordingly, we suggest that the Lower Aonach should house a terrain park with a good number and range of features. This is one of the most sheltered locations on CairnGorm, where thanks too rather than despite the lower altitude, maintaining a quality park would be considerably easier than the exceptionally exposed upper mountain.
There is a great deal still to be done and while we are uncovering more questions than we’ve answers for at the moment, new and exciting opportunities are also coming to light. We’ve a tentative arrangement to meet up with Natural Retreats senior management at the beginning of October and the plans will become clearer follwing these further discussions.
The SavetheCiste team have not been idle during recent weeks. It may seem like an easy job…….fix the chairlifts and get them spinning again. That’s certainly the aim but there is a lot to do as the objective is not just to reinstate things as they were, but to improve upon it.
We are exploring full downloading on both chairs and easier unloading areas so both chairs are more user friendly and suitable for lower abilities allowing them access and egress from the Top Basin via Coire na Ciste.
We will also this autumn be having a good look at the plans for Mountain Bike trails and how they and the ski runs would together fit in best with the chairlifts. This may or may not show that relocating the top of the Ciste Chair is desirable as was proposed by CML in 2012, but it is critical a timely decision is taken on the location of the Chairlift Mid-Station , so that a replacement for the old Boardwalk, be it a boardwalk, footpath or combination can be provided that will tie in neatly with both chairlifts in the future.
We also have team members who are investigating the fresh water and waste water treatment facilities at the Coire na Ciste base station. The electricity supply capacity has also to be factored in. There are 2 team members who are looking into the possibilities for business diversification in the Ciste, particularly around the base area.
We were also pleased to receive from Natural Retreats, a report into the potential for a small scale Hydro scheme within Coire na Ciste [proposed scheme extents indicated in red on map below]. It’s something that looks quite feasible and has excellent potential to provide a more than useful return on investment. Works for such a scheme could potentially be tied in with snow making providing a direct improvement for snowsports in the lower part of the Ciste, while the required ground works could also potentially be combined with the desire of the operator to provide a quadbike sized track that will assist in overhaul and future upkeep of the Coire na Ciste Chairlift.
We are acutely aware of the capital cost considerations and that plans have to have solid year round business potential, but it is an exciting and interesting project, in part thanks to the unique opportunities Coire na Ciste presents compared to Coire Cas. Which is why Coire na Ciste is essential to CairnGorm Mountain’s and thus Strathspey’s future potential.
We’ll continue to post up periodic updates when we’ve anything interesting to report. In the meantime, comments, suggestions and feedback are always welcome and please keep spreading the word about the SavetheCiste petition – the more signatures the stronger the case for reinstatement of the Chairlifts and a new better future for snowsports on CairnGorm Mountain.
We are pleased to report that the Save the Ciste campaign was invited to sit down with senior members of management from NR and discuss the possibilities for future operations [winter & summer] in Coire na Ciste.
Discussions took place on Tuesday 8 July with Ewan Kearney [chief of operations] and Adam Gough [head of the technical services team & the man who will manage on-going and future investment into the snow-sports infrastructure]
We explained to them why there is a Save the Ciste campaign and also detailed the significant support behind it. Discussions also centred on the operational strategy that marginalises Coire na Ciste and its impact, now evidenced by a decline in market share.
We were very well received and it was good to engage with a management team who had no preconceptions and were very keen to listen to what we had to say. It’s very much a can-do attitude now and the management are interested in finding solutions and engaging with stakeholder groups.
It was agreed, on the day, that the campaign would produce a detailed plan for the re-development of Coire na Ciste. This plan will then be presented to NR following which we’ll jointly investigate the economic/financial case.
It will be a tough assignment but it is one that we will very willingly undertake. We’d hope to have this plan completed by mid Autumn.
Our view is that this is a very major step in the right direction and a considerable divergence from what has gone before.
Nobody is making any promises and it is very early days but greatly encouraging.
Ewan Kearney told the Strathspey Herald following the meeting:
The meeting was extremely positive and give us the opportunity to get a first hand explanation of areas around the mountain that could be enhanced operationally to improve the skiing experience for beginners, intermediates and experts. We are going to review a number of the suggestions made in detail.