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.
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.