CairnGorm ski operator says it is stuck in the middle of chairlift dispute

As reported last week, in the second instalment of an ongoing series, emotions are running high in the Spey Valley following the removal of two chairlifts from the CairnGorm Mountain ski area. Although they had been closed since 2005 many skiers had hoped that Ciste and West Wall lifts, situated on the Coire na Ciste side of the mountain, could one day be renovated and brought back into use. Last month, however, workmen employed by the landowners Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with support from Natural Retreats, the company that operates the ski centre, demolished all the chairlift towers and removed them from the mountain. Since then, the folks in the Natural Retreats marketing department have barely been able to publish a single post on the CairnGorm Mountain Facebook page without attracting the ire of locals, who feel that the future of their ski hill has been put in jeopardy.

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Welcome to the second in a series of articles looking at the controversial removal of chairlift infrastructure from the CairnGorm Mountain ski resort near Aviemore. As outlined in last week’s scene-setter, during the second half of August workmen employed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the land on which the ski centre is situated, with the support of current resort operator Natural Retreats, removed the steel towers that used to carry the Ciste and West Wall chairlifts up the Coire na Ciste side of the mountain. According to Natural Retreats, this was simply a clean-up operation to get rid of “historical and redundant infrastructure.” However, although the lifts had been closed since 2005, there has been a long-running campaign – dubbed “Save the Ciste” – to have them renovated and brought back into use, and many of the 3,000-plus skiers who had signed the Save the Ciste petition have reacted angrily to the loss of the lifts.

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What’s going on with the chairlifts at CairnGorm Mountain ski centre?

On 21 August, photographs started popping up on social media that appeared to show the destruction of the chairlift towers and other infrastructure on the Coire na Ciste side of the CairnGorm Mountain ski area near Aviemore. The first few images were blurry, evidently taken from a distance with long lenses, so it was hard to tell exactly what was going on up there on the hill. But it didn’t take long for members of the Scottish skiing community to hike up to get a closer look. The flurry of pictures that followed showed what many had feared: the towers that once supported the West Wall Chairlift and Ciste Chairlift had been removed – felled like so many metal trees – and bright orange diggers were in the process of smashing up the concrete plinths on which they once stood. There were reports that snow fencing from the Aonach Bowl and other nearby ski runs was also being removed. On 23 August, a post on the popular Winter Highland Facebook page read: “Tonight the West Wall Chairlift, along with the ideas, hopes and dreams of the original generation of pioneers of Scottish snowsports, lies smashed up on the slopes of Coire na Ciste.”

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