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 ciste@savetheciste.com 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 included.map
  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…..to 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: http://www.mcofs.org.uk/assets/media/doc210915-001.pdf


Measuring Potential (of the lower Aonach)

On Wednesday 10th June Save the Ciste undertook a site visit to survey and visualise the options for utilizing the currently non-lift served lower Aonach from the Coire na Ciste Chairlift.


These measurements will guide modelling of snow making potential in the lower Ciste. Snow making which will change utilization of the Ciste Chairlift from almost exclusively an access lift – the capacity of which was largely an untapped resource for much of the day – to a lift which serves and accesses a range of runs and terrain park for all ability levels at a lower elevation out of the worst of the mountain weather on terrain sheltered by the high and steep sides of Coire na Ciste.


The sheltered nature of the lower Ciste means it will be usable on many days that high winds and severe overhead conditions prevent use of the upper mountain. That sheltered nature of the slopes within the lower Coire is also important for maximising the benefits from modern snow making, as the relative shelter from warm winds and driving rain reduce melt rates and this gain is maximum in the narrow and deep lower most section of the Ciste Gully approaching the carpark.


Large Size Annotated Map (1.7mb)

On the annotated aerial photography, the purple dotted lines demark the constraints on the width of a fall-line lower Aonach Piste to pass cleanly between chairlift pylons. At 90m wide, this allows more than ample space for approximately 3 distinct lines on the lower Aonach.

One line containing a more challenging intermediate to advanced park starting at OverYonder giving the length to create a park that flows allowing numerous features to be hit per run, a blue graded Lower Aonach trail accessible from OverYonder and the top of the Ciste Chairlift, plus a novice to early intermediate shorter park containing features suitable for those just starting out in freestyle snowsports.

These three lines on the lower Aonach would runout onto the Coire floor before converging with a fence line from the lower Ciste Gully into a 15 to 20m wide link back to the proposed mid-line loading station on the Coire na Ciste Chairlift.


The West Wall – if only there was a Chairlift

This month on Cairn Gorm, skiers are unable to access the biggest snowfield on the mountain, underlining the necessity of our redevelopment proposals for this area.

West Wall & Ciste Gully

The above photograph showing Coire na Ciste a few days ago. The West Wall ski run is wide and complete to the foot of the mothballed West Wall Chairlift. In previous years the chairlift provided lift access here. Because the chairlift is not in operation, skiers are not now able to ski in Coire na Ciste for the majority of the ski season: an area that accounts for approximately half of the ski resort – and also includes the best advanced skiing on the mountain.

There is of course a second ski lift in this area, a surface lift – the West Wall Poma – but, despite the ski runs in Coire na Ciste being persistently skiable since early winter, and continue to be so today, the operator – like last year – was only able to run the Poma for some 15 days due to a lack of snow on the ski lift’s exposed uptrack. Skiers are therefore missing out – and not only that, but so too is the local economy.

We at the Save the Ciste Development Action Group are working hard on a series of multi-stage and multi-activity proposals for the redevelopment of Coire na Ciste. We want to bring this area back into use, sensibly and in a manner that is financially viable, for the benefit of everybody. We look forward to sharing those plans with you at a public presentation in due course.

Please continue to show your support by liking Save the Ciste on Facebook and by signing the e-petition at www.savetheciste.com . Thanks to Doug Bryce for the photograph of CairnGorm’s Coire na Ciste taken from Meall a’ Bhuachaille.


Show some love on Valentine’s Day for Coire na Ciste

The schools are out for February half term, and it is all go in Strathspey. On Cairn Gorm, while the Coire na Ciste Chairlifts stand still, several shuttle buses will be on stand-by in the Ciste carpark to ferry skiers round to the facilities in Coire Cas.

Today, we consider some of the benefits that our multi-stage proposals (being created at the request of the mountain’s new operator) for redeveloping Coire na Ciste and for reinstating the two Chairlifts will have for visiting holidaymakers as well as for regulars.

If our vision for Coire na Ciste is realised, upon parking in the Ciste carpark you would be able to:

  • Stay at a micro-lodge (or your campervan, utilising new hook-ups) in the redesigned Base Area
  • Stop in at a new cafe/bar in the new Base Building – from breakfast-time through to dinnertime.
  • Have toilet and shower/changing facilities at the Ciste Base Area
  • Buy your ski pass, collect your ski hire, and meet your ski instructor
  • Head on up the chairlifts!

Once on the Chairlifts and up in the Coire na Ciste ski area you can:

  • Get started with learning to ski in our dedicated new snow-reliable Learners Zone in the most sheltered part of CairnGorm (Lower Ciste area), and gain confidence quickly by having the Chairlift rather than a T-Bar for uplift.
  • Get to grips with freestyle, or push your level, in our new snow-reliable world class terrain park (Lower Aonach area).
  • Stop for food + drinks, toilets, and shelter, at our new Hydro Scheme Turbine House building (environmentally sensitive in design) in the mid-coire area.
  • Continue on up the West Wall Chairlift to enjoy the expert runs or access the rest of the mountain.

Mid-line loading on the Lower Ciste Chairlift will provide uplift in the lower coire area without requiring to ski back to the carpark, and we plan to install an extra lift for the Learners Zone / Terrain Park.

Snow-making equipment is calculated to make both the terrain park and Learners Zone snow reliable for up to (or over) 100 days per season. The Lower Ciste Gully can be made additionally snow reliable by mitigating the stream melting the snowpack through installation of a tailrace as part of our Hydro plans.

Snow Making on the lower mountain.

We plan to make the runs back to the carpark as snow reliable as possible, and as part of this have surveyed a new double fenced line which we believe will improve the reliability of being able to ski back to your car in Coire na Ciste from the M2 / Daylodge Poma. And of course, if you were staying in our new redesigned Base Area, you will be able to ski back to your accommodation!

Anyhow, enjoy the Valentine’s Day snow, folks – oh, and for the avoidance of doubt, a pair of skis is allowed to count as a significant other!

In the meantime, please don’t forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook, or ‘share’ with the buttons below. And as ever, you can show your support for the redevelopment of Coire na Ciste and its chairlifts by signing our e-Petition which remains live at www.savetheciste.com

Picture: a full line of skiers on both the West Wall and Coire na Ciste Chairlifts, with a full Coire na Ciste carpark behind. We are working hard to prove the financial case to make this a reality once again.