HIE built and owns Scotland’s only funicular railway at Cairngorm, along with associated facilities including ski lifts, the base station, shop, visitor centre, and the UK’s highest restaurant.
The Cairngorm mountain railway is a unique Scottish visitor attraction.
A highly ambitious and complex construction project in a sensitive and challenging mountain environment, the funicular carried its first passengers on Christmas Eve 2001, and was officially opened in June 2002.
Just under two kilometres long, it replaced an outdated chairlift access system which had carried skiers up and down the mountainside since the 1960s.
The funicular was designed to strengthen the tourism sector, which is a vital part of the local economy in what is now the Cairngorms National Park.
It enables snowsports enthusiasts to access the mountain in conditions which would have closed the chairlift, and provides summer visitors with an easy and enjoyable route into the heart of some of Scotland's most beautiful scenery.
At the top station, visitors can experience spectacular mountain views, dine in the Ptarmigan restaurant, and learn about the history and geography of Cairngorm in an interactive exhibition.
The Cairngorm plateau is a site of special scientific interest, home to many rare and fragile plant species, so access to the mountainside is carefully controlled.
Update, April 2014: New operator and multi-million pound investment announced for Cairngorm Mountain
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is delighted to announce Natural Retreats, a specialist leisure and travel company, as the new operator of Cairngorm Mountain, taking effect in June 2014. Natural Retreats are renowned for offering customers and guests high quality tourism based experiences in some of the most dramatic natural locations around the world. Natural Retreats are delighted to be operating on a 25 year lease, opening an exciting new chapter for Cairngorm Mountain and the local economy.
HIE will continue to own Cairngorm Estate, including the funicular and associated infrastructure on the mountain. The new arrangement will see the ownership of current operator Cairngorm Mountain Ltd transfer from HIE to Natural Retreats.
Natural Retreats are revealing a £6.2m five-year investment plan which will secure the future of the Resort for the next 25 years. HIE is supporting the development with a £4m loan to develop a new Day Lodge.
Alex Paterson, Chief Executive at HIE commented: “Natural Retreats has the vision, ambition and experience to enable the resort to fulfil its potential as a world-class visitor destination. Their plans include the further development of snowsports and diversification of the business into a high quality, year-round attraction. Natural Retreats’ ambition to attract new visitors to Cairngorm will produce spin-off opportunities for other local businesses in the tourism sector, especially in Strathspey.”
With over 100 years of relevant international and regional leisure and tourism experience, Natural Retreats’ senior management in both Europe and the US bring a wealth of expertise to the Resort. The UK’s largest and busiest skiing destination will be led by Natural Retreats’ market-leading operational team, who have over 65 years of experience within Ski Resorts worldwide. The brand currently operates in close proximity to four world-renowned US ski destinations and Cairngorm Mountain is the perfect addition to their portfolio.
Matt Spence, founder and CEO of Natural Retreats added: “I am immensely thrilled with the appointment of Natural Retreats as operator of Cairngorm Mountain. I founded this company with the aim to create a way of life in a natural world and I am proud that Natural Retreats have been recognised in our quest. We truly believe Natural Retreats will elevate Cairngorm Mountain as one of the leading leisure and adventure resorts in Europe. My dream is to see both the prestigious international summer and winter X Games held here. Cairngorm Mountain is after all one of Scotland’s best assets with Natural Retreats aiming to provide the ultimate training ground for the next generations of Jenny Jones’ and Callum Smiths with the goal of gold at the next Winter Olympics. This is a four season resort with endless opportunities – we are determined to break seasonality here.
Our aim is to re-launch the Cairngorm Mountain brand to encapsulate the unique visitor experience Natural Retreats hopes to bring and to help create a sense of pride and place with the existing expertise on-site. Our mission will be to engage, inspire and mobilise the public. We believe Scotland has the best tourism opportunity in Europe now and for years to come. Visit Scotland’s Homecoming Scotland 2014 coupled with the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games will position Scotland on the international stage as a dynamic and creative nation and we’re honoured to be in the running to help welcome visitors from all over the world.”
To elevate Cairngorm Mountain as one of the leading leisure and adventure resorts in Europe, offering high quality services across all aspects of the site. To invest and deliver a stepped change at Cairngorm Mountain, creating a visitor attraction that is diverse, commercially self-sustaining and maximising economic impact.
Key objectives include providing more activities at the Resort, creating a full day of activities outside of winter sports, creating a higher quality product offering, increasing new and repeat visitors, increasing food & beverage outlets, range and quality of offerings, expanding retail offering and improving quality and profitability of retail lines, offering a diverse snow sports destination, and creating a new Activity Centre and Education Centre.