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02-03 Was Worst Ever Season For Scottish Ski Centres
Wednesday, 21 April 2004
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CairnGorm Mountain cut its annual loss for 1.8 to 1.2 million pounds in the year to April 2003 - the first full year of operation for the resorts 19.5million funicular railway. The good news was that the railway attracted more than 180,000 non-skiing visitors during the year, well ahead of target; but only 45,000 skiers and boarders used the lift in winter, below the 100,000 skiers a year required to make a profit.

The 45,000 figure was just under a third of the Scottish total of 150,000 across the five centres, down from 600,000 during the heyday of Scottish skiing. Only a decade ago, annual skier day totals were 150,000 for Cairngorm alone.

The decline is being blamed primarily on a chronic lack of snow, which many are blaming in turn on global warming. Two of Scotland's ski areas, Glencoe and Glenshee, are currently up for sale, having lost their operating company 1 million over the past two years.

In an annual report, Hamish Swan, the chairman of Cairngorm Mountain, said the winter season was "the worst for regular snow cover and skier days in the entire history of the Cairngorm ski area. These adverse winter conditions underline the difficulties of running any weather dependent business but this has been exacerbated by what seems to be an accelerated rate of global climatic change.

"In that respect, Cairngorm Mountain is not alone and other winter sports destinations in Scotland, in other parts of Europe and elsewhere, are already experiencing similar challenges. Against this background of uncertainty, it is now self-evident that providing skiing facilities in Scotland is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain."

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a regional Government investment body that owns the funicular, has just agreed to lower the rent paid by Cairngorm Mountain by around 75% for the next twelve months from just over half a million pounds per annum to 100,000. A 1m loan to the company from HIE is also being reconsidered with a view to possibly turning it in to a grant. The new deal includes an increasing share of profits for HIE once these reach levels that will make Cairngorm Mountain a sustainable operation. Despite the gloomy news on skier numbers, unlikely to be much improved after another largely poor season just finished, non-skiing visitor numbers are growing further beyond predicted numbers and the funicular is now Scotland's third most popular visitor attraction.

Glenshee and Glencoe owners are currently in negotiation with several potential buyers including a consortium, the "Friends of Glenshee group," made up of thirty local individuals. The potential buyers are each interested in buying one or the other area, but none are believed to be interested in taking on both.



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