A new masterplan has been agreed that will see major improvements to visitor facilities on CairnGorm Mountain.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has agreed that a previously approved loan of £4 million to mountain operator Natural Retreats can be put towards making the vision for CairnGorm Mountain a reality.
The proposals are still subject to full planning. If approved, an artificial ski slope will be installed using the latest high performance technology to provide year-round skiing facilities.
A wrap-around viewing platform will be added to the Ptarmigan building, the mountain’s top station. The restaurant facilities will be upgraded and capacity increased from 100 to 200, and the exhibition area and retail shop will be relocated and improved.
The developments will enable Natural Retreats to offer year-round activities, including during winter periods of little snowfall.
Cairngorm Mountain is Scotland’s biggest snowsports destination and home to the UK's highest funicular railway and restaurant. It attracts more than 200,000 visitors each year and provides valuable rural employment, particularly during winter.
At the heart of the UK’s largest National Park the mountain is named by National Geographic as one of the 50 Great Places on Earth. Adventure tourism plays a key part of the wider area’s tourism offering.
Charlotte Wright, interim chief executive at HIE, said: “We very much welcome these proposals from Natural Retreats. They will improve the sustainable tourism offering available in and around Aviemore and the Cairngorms. They will expand the season and drive further growth from this key visitor attraction. This in turn will increase visitor numbers, generate year-round income and provide security for employees. Importantly, it will support an industry that attracts young people, both as employees and as customers.”
Ewan Kearney, Chief Operating Officer at Natural Retreats, said: “Natural Retreats is invested in CairnGorm Mountain and the surrounding community for the long term and we’ve worked extremely hard behind the scenes over the last 18 months with architects, experts and consultants, to refine our masterplan, exploring several options including mountain biking and zip wires. We know there has been some frustration in the local area but we hope the community will see that we have listened to their views on future activity on the Mountain. We are now delighted to receive this approval from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which will allow us to move forward with our plans to enhance CairnGorm Mountain’s offering as a year-round visitor attraction.
“We realise the importance of the Mountain operation to the local area and are pleased that we can now move forward with these plans. As part of the formal planning application we look forward to working closely with local businesses and guests to the Mountain to explain all of the plans in further detail and gather feedback on the proposals.”
Natural Retreats hopes to lodge the planning application during the summer 2017. Subject to approval and conditions, work would start as soon as possible thereafter.
Natural Retreats is in the process of reviewing the uplift infrastructure of the Mountain, following an initial evaluation of the ski area and will be looking for input into this review from the snow sports community.
Since 2014 it has been managed by Natural Retreats who aim to make the attraction more sustainable by increasing visitors all year round. Natural Retreats and HIE spent more than £700,000 in 2016 on maintenance and improvement work to ensure snow sports enthusiasts have an enjoyable and safe experience on CairnGorm Mountain.