Highlands & Islands

New operator sought for CairnGorm Mountain ski centre

Cairngorms funicular
Image caption HIE owns the centre and the funicular railway

A new operator is being sought for the CairnGorm Mountain snowsports centre near Aviemore.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) owns the site, which includes Scotland's only funicular railway and the UK's highest restaurant.

The centre is managed by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), which became a subsidiary of HIE in 2008.

The enterprise agency said it had always been clear that it would not run CML long-term.

The site will remain in public ownership.

HIE's decision to advertise for a new operator follows an options appraisal, carried out last year by consultants Ernst and Young.

During the appraisal, nine organisations said they were interested in taking over the operation and developing the resort.

An advertisement has been placed in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Charlotte Wright, HIE's director of business and sector development, said the centre presented a great opportunity for the right operator.

She said: "CairnGorm is not only well established as one of the UK's premier snowsports centres, the funicular railway has helped make it a year-round attraction.

"It's important to stress that neither the estate nor the funicular is being put up for sale. HIE will retain public ownership of both the land and the infrastructure.

"What we're seeking is an operator with innovative ideas and the capacity to invest so that a sustainable future can be secured for this important local business."

MSPs' criticism

HIE's handling of the snowsports centre has been criticised in the past.

In 2010, MSPs said the public agency's failure to take account of risks to the running of the funicular railway led to "spiralling" costs.

The Scottish Parliament's audit committee reviewed HIE's spending on the railway.

Image caption Skiers at CairnGorm Mountain during this winter's snowsports season

In a report, the committee said threats such as warmer winters' effect on skiing were not taken in account.

At the time, HIE said it recognised the MSPs' criticism of earlier decisions.

The agency had provided £19.42m - almost £5m more than expected - towards the £26m cost of building and running the funicular.

In 2010, HIE said it spent up to £4m over three to four years on maintaining the facility.

Audit Scotland also investigated HIE's backing of the railway.

In 2009, the public spending watchdog said a decline in skiers was among risks to a mountain railway not taken into account before it was built.

The funicular was opened in 2001 and connects a base station with the Ptarmigan Restaurant 1,097m (3,599ft) up Cairn Gorm mountain. It is used by skiers and tourists.

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