Aren’t the two Ciste Chairlifts obsolete?
The term ‘obsolete’ is one that has been bandied around on several occasions over the past few years. The Ciste Chairlifts were manufactured by highly respected Swiss lift engineering firm GMD Mueller, and the same model of Mueller chairlifts continue to operate safely year-in year-out around the world – in some cases with lifts more than a decade older than the Ciste Chairlifts still serving as major components in a resorts infrastructure.
A US subsidiary, Mueller Lift Services, continues today, while in Europe Rowema AG of Switzerland holds and continues to manufacture spare parts for all GMD Mueller lifts – including for the Ciste Chairlifts.
ROWEMA is supplying spare parts for all … GMD Mueller Lifts and Gerhard Mueller Maschinenbau installations all around the world. Either directly or through local agents and collaborators. ROWEMA is the sole legitimate GMD successor and has all project drawings and specifications of formerly built systems, such as ski-lifts [and] Chairlifts.
This enables ROWEMA to offer correct maintenance and upgrades without costly modifications by others.
Available from stock we have all common spares. Even spares for installations running since 40 years and more we can supply the necessary.
We also supply, if available, factory reconditioned and ND tested equipment.
Do we still receive enough snow to justify the operation of these two Chairlifts?
As covered on other sections on this website, if snow-lie was taken into account then the two Ciste Chairlifts would still be there, rather than [just] the West Wall Poma. The Ciste Chairlifts were sited to take best advantage of the natural snowfields in Coire na Ciste. By contrast, the West Wall Poma is sited on the exposed brow of the hill in an area of much less effective snowholding – even though snowfencing is used here. Operating the two Ciste Chairlifts would allow [up to] several weeks more skiing every winter in Coire na Ciste, whereas operating the West Wall Poma alone has resulted in the entire Coire na Ciste area being closed during such periods – even though runs are complete.
The following diagram demonstrates the location of the natural snowfields which lead back to the Ciste Chairlifts and/or the boardwalks which lead to the Ciste Chairlifts. The location of the snowfields leaves the West Wall Poma marooned. Further diagrams are available in other sections of this website:
Image based on Ordnance Survey map data
Are the Chairlifts not overly vulnerable to high winds, which will render them shut on many days?
Like any lift, high wind speeds can affect chairlifts. In the case of the Coire na Ciste Chairlifts, CML’s [then] Chief Engineer told us in 2006 that these lifts could run at a maximum windspeed of 38mph from any direction – including from a cross-line (perpendicular) direction.
CML’s current Operations Manager has stated that he would hestitate to run the Chairlifts in cross-line wind speeds of any more than 30mph. He also stated that the bars on the West Wall Poma begin to swing too much when cross-line wind speeds reach 40mph. Going by these figures, it could be considered that there is roughly a 10mph difference in wind tolerances between the West Wall Chairlift and the West Wall Poma.
The West Wall Poma both extends to a higher altitude (by 400ft) and is situated higher on the ridge line where it runs parallel to the West Wall Chairlift. Thus it is usually the case in prevailing winds that the West Wall Poma experiences higher wind speeds than the West Wall Chairlift. Therefore the original 10mph wind tolerance advantage the West Wall Poma is stated to have over the West Wall Chairlift is at least partially negated by the greater exposure of the West Wall Poma
Further, the number of days lost due to wind by the West Wall Chairlift must be considered against the significant number of days the West Wall Poma is unable to operate due to lack of snow, even when at least one ski runs it serves is complete.
This diagram demonstrates the relatively more sheltered location of the West Wall Chairlift in comparison to the West Wall Poma:
The top of the West Wall Chairlift is where the lift is most vulnerable to high winds, but we can see that it is in a more sheltered position than the West Wall Poma:
Ski area statistics suggest that skier numbers plummet in days of high winds (the wind speed figure range given corresponds roughly with that which would be enough to render the Ciste Chairlifts closed). On days with wind speeds that might render the Ciste Chairlifts closed, it is likely that the hill would have considerably fewer skiers numbers anyway [than a day with lower wind speeds]. Under many circumstances, it is perhaps a slightly moot point that the Ciste Chairlifts are vulnerable to high winds. It is an issue in times of downloading or evacuation in severe weather conditions, but this is true of any cableway and the operating company would be better placed for an evacuation of Coire na Ciste if they had the option of using the Ciste Chairlifts.
Reinstatement of the West Wall Chairlift in itself would be hugely welcomed and would greatly enhance the offering and customer experience for intermediate and advanced ability levels. However, the full potential of the West Wall Chairlift cannot be met without the Coire na Ciste Chairlift. Without the Coire na Ciste Chairlift there remains no lift access from the Coire na Ciste Carpark and no means of direct return to the Coire na Ciste Carpark when the snow does not reach below the base of the West Wall Chairlift. The West Wall Chairlift on its own cannot address any of the issues regarding the Shuttle Bus, does not open up potential non-ski winter revenue from the Ciste Chairlifts, and does not provide opportunities for summer lift served activities.
Without the Coire na Ciste Chairlift, the West Wall Chairlift would serve purely as an uplift for skiing off. Without the access-aspect the West Wall Chairlift would not be utilised to it’s full potential, resulting in fewer days of operation, fewer customer benefits, and fewer financial gains as the benefits of reinstatement could not be maximised. While the West Wall Chairlift would add critically required uplift redundancy to Coire na Ciste and provide an alternative to the West Wall Poma, on its own the West Wall Chairlift does not fully deal with concerns about Coire na Ciste evacuation in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. In such conditions the lower level Coire na Ciste Chairlift could continue to operate for a significantly longer period of time allowing a lift-served escape from Coire na Ciste.
Following the removal of the Link Lift Poma it is no longer possible to access the West Wall Poma from the Coire na Ciste Chairlift without a short but steep/rough walk. This would be very unsatisfactory and access would not be possible when the West Wall Poma uptrack was not complete. Access by this route would only be available to advanced riders.
Extending the Coire na Ciste Chairlift to interchange directly with the West Wall Poma had been considered in the past and was again proposed in an outline proposal by CML following the initial Save the Ciste Campaign – but this has not been progressed since initial discussions with planners in early 2012 (Highland Council E-Planning).
However, without the West Wall Chairlift this fails to address the vast majority of issues with the West Wall Poma. If the West Wall Chairlift was reinstated following such an extension, the direct level interchange between the two Ciste Chairlifts must be maintained to maximise the potential gains.
Does the age of these Chairlifts not mean that a new or replacement installation is preferable to a reinstatement?
Overseas ski resorts continue to use GMD Mueller Chairlifts of similar age [as the Ciste Chairlifts] – if not older – as integral components of their respective lift networks. Lift engineers at some of these resorts have told us that the type of lift was “seriously over-engineered” and that they anticipate no reason why these chairlifts would stop providing a more than satisfactory service any time soon.
While the two Ciste Chairlifts were built in 1974, experienced lift engineers have told us that there is “no fundamental reason” why they should not be operating now, and – given the availability of spare parts – why they should not continue to operate for years to come. Indeed, all the T-Bars on CairnGorm were manufactured by the same engineering firm as the Ciste Chairlifts (GMD Mueller), and all of these lifts are older than the Ciste Chairlifts. Some significantly so.
Realistically any new lift installation on CairnGorm Mountain is likely to be situated in Coire Cas [rather than in Coire na Ciste], but even then it would be unrealistic to expect such an installation to take place in the short to medium term. As we stand, the reinstatement of the Ciste Chairlifts provides the only real option in the short to medium term.
I heard that many of the pylon foundations need replaced – is this the case?
Observations have revealed a small number of pylon bases on the lower Coire na Ciste Chairlift are in poor condition and require remedial works. The replacement of foundations is not a unique situation, and should be treated as part of normal maintenance and upkeep. Similar foundation-replacement work has been undertaken on the Top Basin tows and a program of rolling-repairs is to commence on the Cas T-Bar foundations.
If the case for the Chairlifts is so strong, why are they not still in use?