Cairngorms funicular could remain shut for ski season
CairnGorm Mountain's funicular railway could be out of action for the whole of this upcoming ski season, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has warned.
The UK's highest railway has been closed for about a month due to problems with the structure supporting the tracks.
Engineers are due to present a report on their investigation of the issues in early December.
HIE said the railway being close longer term was a "worst case scenario".
The development agency has given the warning in an announcement that it is reviewing the resort's uplift infrastructure, and is investing £1m in a snowmaking machine and snow cannons to guarantee snow at lower levels to help salvage the latest snowsports season.
During ski seasons at CairnGorm Mountain, near Aviemore, the funicular carries large volumes of skiers and snowboarders from the centre's car parks to its ski areas.
The options currently left to snowsports enthusiasts to gain access to slopes from the bottom are three tows - the day lodge, car park T-bar and the Fiacaill Ridge tow.
But these are slower and carry fewer people.
HIE's chairman Prof Lorne Crerar said: "Board members are deeply concerned about the closure of the funicular and the impact this will be having locally.
"An investigation into the concerns is well underway and we eagerly anticipate a report on that in early December, along with plans for any remedial work needed to restore the service."
On HIE's investment in snowmaking equipment, Prof Crerar said: "This investment means that, even if the worst case scenario comes to pass and the funicular is out of action for the season, we can still look forward to a season of winter sports at Cairngorm, just as in any other year.
"In addition to getting the funicular back into use, our prime concern now is the impact the closure will be having on operational staff at Cairngorm and on the many local businesses that have strong links to activities on the mountain.
"HIE staff are working with Business Gateway to provide local business support, and that is crucial."
He added: "We certainly support the acquisition of snowmaking equipment and are determined to have something in place for skiers when the season kicks off."
Uncertainty over the availability of the funicular has already had negative impacts.
CairnGorm Mountain will not be running its Snow School this season, and the annual Groove CairnGorm dance music festival will not take place next February.
Disability Snowsports UK (DSUK) said it had received a number of inquiries from disabled skiers and their families following news about the Snow School.
A spokesperson for the charity said: "As many of you know, our Cairngorm ski school is close to our hearts, it's where it all began over 40 years ago and is the only mountain in the UK to host a DSUK ski school.
"Usually, we would announce the opening dates of the school in October and we would be able to accept bookings from skiers and their families.
"Unfortunately, the funicular railway on Cairngorm mountain is currently closed due to safety concerns; it is unknown when it might open again."
DSUK is currently exploring how it might be able to deliver skiing in the Cairngorms without the funicular railway.