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Preferred bidder named as potential operator of Cairngorm funicular

14 February 2014

A year-long quest to identify a new operator for the publicly-owned Cairngorm funicular railway and associated visitor facilities has taken a significant step forward.

The Board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the development agency which owns both the mountain railway and its present operator CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), has awarded preferred bidder status to tourism business Natural Retreats UK Ltd.

Announcing the Board’s decision, HIE Chief Executive Alex Paterson said: “This is a significant step forward in our procurement process, but it is not the end.

“Over the coming weeks, HIE will hold further discussions with Natural Retreats on a number of points of detail, before deciding whether or not to proceed to awarding a contract. This is a normal procedure in complex procurements which follow the ‘competitive dialogue’ methodology.

"Whatever the outcome of the upcoming discussions with our preferred bidder, the railway and visitor facilities, and, indeed, the wider Cairngorm estate, will remain in public ownership through HIE."

The Cairngorm attraction is Scotland’s only funicular railway, and contributes significantly to the important tourism sector in Aviemore and the surrounding area. Built by HIE and opened in 2000, it is well used by skiers and snowboarders through the winter, and attracts a broad range of other visitors throughout the year.

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Mike Raeburn 19/02/2014

It is no exaggeration to state that Cairngorm has not been well managed over the past years. I have been skiing and climbing there for the past 50 years so have seen it in all its various guises. I hope that your preferred bidder has some experience of running snow sport centres otherwise you might be better to look at some of the existing area operators such as Glenshee or Nevis Range. Cairngorm has been left to deteriorate, the best run on the front of the mountain, the White Lady, has not had an operational tow for years making it virtually impossible to use. The Corrie Na Ciste chairlift has similarly been abandoned. The idea of the Ciste chair was to have an alternative way onto the mountain when the original chairlift was not working and to take the pressure off the uplift when it was busy. The same rational applies today when the funicular is not working, a more and more frequent occurrence. Then there is the road clearing. You used to be able to sit in Avimore at night watching the ploughs going up and down the road keeping it and the car parks open. Not any more, twice last season I drove from Aberdeen to find the road closed with no hope of opening it for several days. This is frankly not good enough. Cairngorm's spectacular lack of communication is appalling, when I complained that they did not put out road reports they said it was on their Facebook page! Fat lot of use when you are driving through the mountains to get there. There is a very useful app called Winterhighland which gives up to date reports on all the areas except Cairngorm which is still showing last season's final report. This is typical of the poor management endemic within the Cairngorm establishment.

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