Lower Aonach – An asset that needs reclaimed

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.

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.

Rail Slide in the Ptarmigan Terrain Park

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.

Share
 

Late August Update

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.

Share
 

Developing a vision for Coire na Ciste

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.

Share
 

Save the Ciste meets with Natural Retreats on CairnGorm

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.

Share
 

CairnGorm Ciste Talks A Good Move

Strathspey Herald Wrote on 26th June:

It’s encouraging that the new operators of CairnGorm Mountain are prepared to sit down with members of the Save the Ciste Campaign to listen to their views.

There are undoubtedly major access problems in Coire na Ciste, which offers the best skiing on the mountain but too often is closed off, sometimes without explanation.

The loss of the two chairlifts and Aonach Poma in 2010 combined with the ever increasing problems of the reliability of the West Wall Poma have severely hampered access to the Ciste in recent years.

To read the full editorial comment and the page 2 article on Coire na Ciste, please pick up a copy of this week’s Strathy.

We will keep you updated on the meeting which is scheduled for early July, both here and on our Facebook page. If you have any specific questions you feel the campaign should be raising, please comment below.

Share
 

Renewing the Calls for Chairlift Reinstatement

Since the Save the Ciste campaign was launched during the 2010 season, the rolling 5 year average skier day figure has climbed to over 104,000 per season, twice the 5 year average in 2007.

As many will be aware Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has pursued a 2 year long process to select a new operator for the facilities on CairnGorm Mountain, this process is currently due to be completed on Wednesday 11th June with the transfer of the operating company CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML) from HIE to Natural Retreats UK Ltd.

Following the initial Save the Ciste Campaign, CML brought forward plans for limited redevelopment in Coire na Ciste. These proposals involved refurbishment of the Lower Ciste Chairlift with accompanying lift served mountain bike trails, plus a zip line. These plans were shelved due to HIE initiating the tendering process that has seen Natural Retreats selected.

Natural Retreats have published a 5 year plan for redevelopment of facilities on CairnGorm. Not only does this plan not address the future of the Ciste & West Wall Chairlifts, it includes no provision for improving the inadequate snowsports uplift capacity on the mountain.

The Save the Ciste Campaign had been taking a back seat while the tendering process was being undertaken, but with Natural Retreats taking ownership of CML, the Save the Ciste Campaign is renewing it’s calls for reinstatement of the Coire na Ciste and West Wall Chairlifts.

If you have already signed our e-petiton, a big thank you and please help strengthen the calls for chairlift reinstatement by liking us on Facebook and spreading the word.

If you are considering supporting our e-petition and wish further information, please take a few minutes to browse this website. The ‘At a Glance’ page will give you a quick summary of the issues and the ‘Save the Ciste Manifesto’ provides a positive case for the future of this hugely important and unique part of CairnGorm Mountain.

Share
 

Tomorrow is the Day (supposedly)…

Tomorrow (Wednesday 11th June) is the day Natural Retreats UK Ltd are due to take ownership of CML (CairnGorm Mountain Ltd) from HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise).

With Natural Retreats onboard, the Save the Ciste Campaign is renewing calls for reinstatement of the Coire na Ciste and West Wall Chairlifts. We’ve refreshed and updated the campaign website this month and added a new news/blog section for relevant news and information going forward. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.

Share
 

Natural Retreats – 5 Year Plan

The following outline of Natural Retreats 5 year plan for CairnGorm Mountain is taken from the Press Release issued on 7th April 2014:

Investment

Natural Retreats have a £6.2m five-year investment plan which is being delivered across three phases. Phase 1 involves refurbishing the day lodge and retail space, refurbishing Ptarmigan restaurant and exhibition space, enhancing signage and way-finding across the Resort, improving current operational efficiencies, creating an exceptional retail and F&B experience, starting planning application for new facilities and integrating the Natural Retreats brand. Phase 2 consists of, subject to planning, building a new Day Lodge with dedicated space for Retail, Catering, a new Activity Centre and Equipment Hire. This new building is planned for £4m and HIE have approved a loan to Natural Retreats for this. This phase also includes plans to launch a new nursery slope with new beginners’ lift and Perma-Snow slope. Phase 3 involves reconfiguring the Ptarmigan with a new Education Centre and a new restaurant.

Share