Skiing and snow sports on Cairngorm are crucial to the local economy. They are also part of the culture of the local communities. The current problems which have arisen are of very serious concern both to me and HIE. Strathy readers, many of whom work in the sector, and many more who care passionately about its future should be assured: Both I and HIE are determined to do all that we practically do to tackle the current challenges. My colleagues Kate Forbes the local constituency MSP for Cairngorm, and Drew Hendry MP are also working hard and are providing full support.

From the early days in 1961 of Bob Clyde and Myrtle Simpson and the setting up of the Cairngorm Chairlift Company, through the Lurchers Gully debate, to the campaign to replace the chairlift and get SNH to withdraw their objection to the Funicular – the issues have been of prime importance to the economic and social life of Badenoch and Strathspey.

For the last three decades, I have sought to provide unstinting support for snowsports and the sustainable development of snowsports on Cairngorm.

For the past seven years I have been the Scottish Government Minister with overarching responsibility for Scotland’s five outdoor snowsports centres. I have met representatives from each of them annually and these meetings have been used to tackle practical barriers facing them. Over this period, we have seen much progress and the meetings have proved popular and successful in leading to practical projects and outcomes. For example, five Million pounds of grant support has been available for improvement of uplift capacity. VAT reductions have been wrought from the UK Government. That work was bi partisan. I should credit Danny Alexander the former MP for working hard on that too. In fact, in all parties politicians locally have been supportive of skiing on the hill. It should not be or become a political football.

Improvements to road maintenance, weather and snow forecasting, working to assist achievement of permissions and consents, renewable energy schemes to reduce costs – and many more pragmatic matters have been raised discussed and so far as possible – dealt with for the five centres.

Last year with help from HIE snow making equipment has been used – both in Cairngorm and elsewhere with much learning gained from the collective experiences.

There is no doubt that the use of this equipment, once practical operational problems are overcome, will be game changing. Snow making can extend the season by preserving piste skiing. So even in poor weather seasons, skiing through to Easter should be perfectly feasible. That would in turn allow those planning skiing holidays and breaks in Cairngorm to do so with confidence that there will actually be skiing – a massive boost. All of that is within grasp, with hard work, commitment and some public funding.

Last Saturday morning, news emerged that the operators Natural Retreats announced by e-mail that the ski school would not be operating this year. No notice of this was provided to HIE even though they had met with company representatives last Friday

This followed the news that consultant engineers are investigating the Funicular and this detailed work will take time to be brought to a conclusion. The mechanical problems being investigated must be thoroughly assessed and then rectified as required in order to continue the safe operation of the railway. That this is necessary is hardly a shock since the railway has operated for many years in the harshest weather in the UK. But nonetheless it has come as a blow to morale and caused real worry for the season ahead. Like all other problems that occur in life we must simply address this thoroughly and be ready to provide practical, and where justified financial support. That is exactly what has been happening over the past weeks. Over that time, I have been in extensive and frequent contact with senior personnel at HIE all of whom are wholly committed to finding practical solutions as quickly as this can be done. Like most of the work that people do this is done behind the scenes and conducted with urgency and resolve.

This week, HIE at their Board meeting are considering the issues involved. I am working closely with them on behalf of the Scottish Government. I want to assure all that care about the future of Cairngorm Mountain that the issues involved are being considered as a priority and with a shared determination to find the best way forward.

As soon as progress can be made, news of that shall be shared with the local press and media.

Kind regards,

Fergus Ewing MSP