A range of options for the future operation of Scotland's busiest snowsports centre at Cairngorm is to be explored later this year by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
HIE built and owns the funicular railway at Cairngorm, along with associated buildings including ski lifts, the base station, shop, visitor centre, and the UK's highest restaurant.
In 2008, it also acquired the operator of the facilities, CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), as a subsidiary company.
When HIE took over CML, it stated that it did not intend to retain long-term ownership of the business, and would investigate alternative options for its operation and management.
Now, following two recent outstanding skiing seasons, it is testing the market to gauge interest from potential future operators.
An advert placed in the Official Journal of the European Union invites expressions of interest from 'suitably experienced potential operators who may wish to consider operating and managing the business in whole or in part'.
The advert makes it clear that the facilities are not currently for sale. Instead, HIE intends to use information gathered through the market testing exercise to inform a detailed options appraisal before the end of 2012.
HIE has engaged Ernst and Young to collate suggestions for commercially and environmentally sustainable operating models which will maximise the continuing economic impact of the business as a key element of the Highlands' tourism infrastructure.
Alex Paterson, HIE Chief Executive, explained: 'Part of HIE's role as a development agency is to create assets which will sustain and generate economic growth.
'The funicular railway has certainly succeeded in that aim, helping to underpin the vital tourism sector around Aviemore and the surrounding area for the past decade.
'However, we never seek to be tied in as the long-term owner or operator of assets which we've developed.
'With two of Cairngorm's most successful winter seasons ever under our belt, the time is now right to test the market and see whether there is serious interest out there from others who could effectively run this unique business.
'Based on what we find, we'll then be in a much stronger position to weigh up all our options and determine next steps.'
HIE is keeping an open mind as to what kind of business model would be most suitable for Cairngorm. Suggestions from all parties interested in operating and managing the business will be evaluated and used to inform the options appraisal.