Why the Chairlifts must be Reinstated

Only a reinstatement of the Coire na Ciste and West Wall Chairlifts can bring about real benefit to CairnGorm Mountain – particularly in the short to medium term.

Reliability: Snow
The base of the West Wall Poma is at 722m, and the base of the West Wall Chairlift is at 696m. While its lowest point is higher in altitude, the West Wall Poma was built on the brow of the hill in an exposed area not known for snow holding, and so its lower section is often snowless long before the runs it serves. By contrast, the West Wall Chairlift was sited deeper into Coire na Ciste in an area of reliable snowholding. This is complimented by a boardwalk that runs from the Ciste Gully to the Coire na Ciste Chairlift mid-station, allowing the Ciste Chairlifts to directly serve the natural snowfields of Coire na Ciste.

In 2008 there was a period of almost one month where skiable snow reached the Coire na Ciste Chairlift boardwalk, but not the West Wall Poma.  We have observed this scenario to occur every winter since 2005 (the year we started paying attention) for varying periods of time, but invariably for up to a period of several weeks annually.

It is well known that Chairlifts do not require an uptrack to be complete in order for them to be run. Therefore they only require snow to be accessible from the top of the Chairlift to the base of the chairlift (or boardwalk) – by any route. The Coire na Ciste Chairlifts were designed with this in mind, and were deliberately sited to take best advantage of the natural snowfields.

Image based on Ordnance Survey map data

The West Wall Poma requires its uptrack to be maintained, and a break of only a few metres in the uptrack can render the entire Coire na Ciste area closed – regardless of the fact that there are still complete runs. This has happened on several occasions over the past few winters and for varying lengths of time. The operating company has also stated that in order for them to be able to run the West Wall Poma, it is necessary to be able to drive a Piste Machine [over snow] into Coire na Ciste via the M2/OverYonder ski runs, so that they can piste the West Wall Poma uptrack in an uphill direction. In poorer winters, this can make it even less likely that the West Wall Poma will be able to operate. The West Wall Chairlift carries with it no such prerequisites.

Only the Ciste Chairlifts properly serve Coire na Ciste:
When the West Wall Chairlift is running, the full length of the East Walls, Ciste Gully and West Wall would become directly lift accessed. There would be no reason for people to need to cut off from these runs early in order to traverse back to the West Wall Poma, and without this resultant rutting (caused by the traverse area) this will allow the West Wall itself to become fully skiable once again, greatly improving the quality of the skiing in Coire na Ciste.

Image based on Ordnance Survey map data

The Chairlifts Can Replace the Aonach Poma:
A mid-line loading/downloading ramp on the Coire na Ciste Chairlift at the 3 pylon complex beside the old Aonach Poma rig would provide replacement for the decommissioned Aonach Poma. This would allow the Coire na Ciste Chairlifts to provide uplift for the full length of the Ciste Gully and Aonach Bowl, as well as to provide downloading [back to the Ciste Carpark] from the bottom of these runs. This alteration would restore lift access to the full ski area.

Image based on Ordnance Survey map data

At the top of the West Wall Chairlift, an additional fenceline – the ‘Bynack Traverse’ – can be created using a series of natural ledges above the Aonach Bowl. An east/west fence alignment would catch snow on north/south winds, and would provide similar profile/aspect to the snow-sure Coire Cas Traverse. This fenceline would permit direct access to the Aonach Bowl and the M2 from the Ciste Chairlifts, without requiring use of the Aonach Poma, West Wall Poma or Ciste T-Bar. In conjunction with extending OverYonder to reach the West Wall Chairlift, this will open up the M2 and OverYonder runs to families and intermediate snowboarders currently unwilling or unable to use the West Wall Poma.

Image based on Ordnance Survey map data

Reduce/Remove the Need for a Shuttle Bus:
Reinstating the two Ciste Chairlifts and Ciste base facilities would reduce/remove the needs and costs associated with contracting shuttle buses. Customers will be able to access the mountain quickly and directly from the Coire na Ciste Carpark, and receive the full value of their day tickets. The Ciste Chairlifts would provide a positive customer experience in a way that the shuttle bus service cannot, and would provide a real return and value to the business.

Reduce Coire Cas Congestion:
With customers all being channeled through the facilities in Coire Cas (including base facilities such as the ticket office and toilets, as well as access to the hill through the Coire Cas carpark lifts), these areas can become severely congested – particularly at peak times and on busy winter days. Operation of the Coire na Ciste Chairlifts and base facilities would allow direct access and uplift on the hill via Coire na Ciste, as well as increasing mountain capacity. An emphasis on Coire na Ciste will allow greater customer spread across the hill, relieving bottlenecks in Coire Cas and ensuring a positive customer experience which in turn will bring about other benefits.

Reliability: Roads
The Coire Cas Carpark is at an altitude of 635m and the Coire na Ciste Carpark at an altitude of 550m. At a lower altitude, the road to Coire na Ciste is less vulnerable to blockage by snow. On several occasions over the past few years the road has been clear as far as the Coire na Ciste Carpark, but the mountain has remained closed due to the heavy drifting that occurs on the Link Road to the Coire Cas Carpark. With a more reliable road, the Coire na Ciste Chairlifts can still offer access to the mountain during such periods. It is notable that the mountain was closed for a period of 12 days at peak season in winter 2010 due to blocked roads to Coire Cas.

Image based on Ordnance Survey map data

The above diagram demonstrates the contour heights of each carpark, and also the smaller section of road (bright yellow) that requires to be clear for operation from Coire na Ciste. Note that our suggested mid-line loading ramp on the Coire na Ciste Chairlift corresponds with the base altitude of three surface lifts in Coire Cas.

In 2001 under similar circumstances where the operating company was unable to clear the road as far as Coire Cas, for 7 days the ski centre opened from Coire na Ciste exclusively:

Non-skiing use?
With a closed-system in operation on the Funicular, only the Ciste Chairlifts can allow for lift-served summer activities. To receive the full benefits of reinstatement, potential summer activity options which are not possible with the Funicular [such as mountain biking, paragliding, hillwalking and sightseeing access, etc] should be investigated.