Board members of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) today agreed to embark on a strategic path to prepare operations at CairnGorm Mountain tourist destination near Aviemore to return to alternative ownership.
HIE chair William Roe said: “This is a unique facility which underpins the economy of Aviemore and the wider area. Its contribution to the popularity of the Highlands during winter months is significant, but we need to endow it with a competitive reputation as a year-round visitor destination, attractive as a business proposal to a private operator.”
“We believe we can achieve this through enhancing its revenue potential – improving infrastructure, carrying out planned maintenance, developing the business structure and procurement strategy. We will also be putting in place a strategic overview of HIE's ownership of Cairngorm Estate.”
HIE will set out its detailed proposals in an action plan which the Board will consider next spring. At today's meeting it was envisaged that HIE would retain ownership of the facility for another two to three years to enable the plan to be fully delivered.
The board had been asked to consider strategy options set out by consultants Johnston and Carmichael following their review of operations at Cairngorm. The options included: consideration of maintaining the status quo – continuing the operations at the current level with HIE carrying out maintenance as necessary; a partial rebranding and repositioning of the business, or a third proposal building on the latter but to include capital investment in the Ptarmigan building and Day Lodge.
Mr Roe explained: “The report gave us a robust overview of the current operations and taking into account our responsibility for health and safety, the board decided that HIE should embark on a period of sustained investment in infrastructure, maintenance and repairs as a pre-requisite to embarking on a tendering process.”
HIE took over ownership of the operating company Cairngorm Mountain Ltd (CML) last summer when its debt burden threatened the viability of its future. HIE was able to negotiate with creditors to relieve the size of debt and, in partnership with independent consultants, set about researching a financially sustainable model that will enable CML to return to alternative ownership as an all-year tourist operator.
Note to editors:
Cairn Gorm is at the northern end of the Grampian mountain massif and gives its name to the whole range. The ski area covers 884 ha. of the 2,348 ha. Cairngorm Estate which is owned by HIE. In May 2008 HIE acquired the operating company Cairngorm Mountain Ltd (CML).
HIE's ownership of the Estate dates back to the early 1970s when it was transferred for from the Forestry Commission to the HIDB. The transfer was carried out at the behest of the Secretary of State for Scotland since the upper slopes of Cairn Gorm are not suitable for forestation. The objective of the arrangement was to ensure and enable the controlled and proper development of winter sports in the area and also, to enable proper provision for maintenance of the estate.
The activity on the Estate continues to be the provision of facilities for downhill skiing, operated by CML. However, the estate is used for a variety of other activities in both winter and summer including: grazing reindeer, rock climbing, hill walking and scientific research.
Following completion of the construction of the funicular railway in 2001, the ski area and facilities were leased to CML.
Contact: Caroline Rham