Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) has today published it's CairnGorm Masterplan - it states various broad objectives for 25 years time (some of them frankly laughable in the context of restricting new investment to Coire Cas). It is almost certainly not a master plan in the terms that might have be expected in a planning / business planning sense with a detailed road map for what is to be developed, what the sequencing of the works will be etc.
Instead we have yet another rehash of a vague concept for a National Centre for the Mountain Environment that HIE/CML first mooted in 2006 to replace the Daylodge in Coire Cas.
'Optimise rather than maximise' is a phrase that appears several times in the document, is this is optimising in HIE/CML speak?
At the end of the document is drawings showing vastly reduced car parking capacity in both Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste that looks commensurate with a retreat to the Top Basin and the Ptarmigan and Coire na Ciste T-bars (and maybe Coire Cas).
That does not seem to be compatible with the SE Group objective of installing 2 new high speed detachable chairlifts in Coire Cas, nor does the scope of the document provide any indication that CML will become a commercially viable and sustainable business. In fact the masterplan says:
A sustainable operating model will match long-term expenditure by the operator with long-term income. This allows for both ‘earned’ and ‘unearned’ income, such as public funding support.
What has been learnt over the past 20 years is that a single base ski area, reliant on road access to Coire Cas and burdened with the Funicular Railway is not viable nor sustainable.
Scottish snowsports has always been opportunistic in nature, the reality of a maritime climate means it will remain so. It really is a case of needing to be able to make hay when the sun shines, that means being able to maximise capacity when conditions are at their best (it's these times the funicular is most likely to be shut) and being able to reopen when the storm abates, not merely start digging out the road and funicular.
Another recurring feature is an active travel corridor and more sustainable transport to the mountain.
Both these objectives could be easily met by replacing access to the mountain via the public road with a gondola, the existing road could be scaled back to a service
road / active travel route. Closing the road could save close to 2million vehicle KM per annum and transfer that traffic to an electric gondola system.
While there maybe a desire to restrict development in the natural forest areas, the vicinity of the existing road corridor provides an opportunity for bike routes down from above the treeline through the forest to a Glenmore base providing a range of terrain and changing character that just can not be achieved in Coire Cas alone.
Fundamentally the masterplan doesn't address the existing disconnect between management and strategy for Glenmore and CairnGorm and in many ways the ski road as much isolates rather than connects the two. There has for years not been a formal footpath between Glenmore and Coire Cas following washout / landslide of part of the Allt Mor path.
HIE has not when asked given assurances about the expected operational lifespan of the propped up Funicular viaduct and whether the props merely make up for the existing deterioration or provide it with strength to stop the premature structural deterioration.
Thus it would seem prudent given the experience to date to consider the repair of the Funicular as a very expensive medium term stop gap. The time to reimagine CairnGorm Mountain, plan and begin to develop the post funicular / post ski road facilities is now - not when the Funicular next needs a major intervention.
One might just ponder what sort of ski area we might now have on CairnGorm if the money spent on consultant reports that lead nowhere had been spent on maintaining the ski area? Let alone what could be done with the sort of budget being spent on the funicular during the first half of this decade.
Edited 2 times. Last edit at 18.25hrs Wed 2 Jun 21 by winterhighland.