Saturday 2 September 2017

What's going on in Coire na Ciste on Cairn Gorm?

Coire na Ciste

The ski resort at Cairn Gorm used to cover two corries – Coire Cas and steeper, narrower Coire na Ciste. However the infrastructure in the latter was abandoned twelve years ago and has been left to decay ever since, a disgrace in a national park (or anywhere in the hills come to that). For many years downhill skiers have campaigned for the lifts to be reopened. This summer however the current Cairngorm Mountain operators, Natural Retreats, have started removing all the structures, including the snow fences. In principle if the lifts are not to be used this is welcome. The corrie should be left to return to nature. In places there is already some natural tree regeneration.

Lift support tower cut from its base rather than unbolted

However all is not as it seems. According to ParkswatchScotland (an excellent organisation worth following by anyone concerned about Scotland’s national parks) Natural Retreats and resort owner Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE) are deliberately destroying infrastructure that could be reused and the work being done is not in accord with environmental requirements. At the same time a local group called Save the Ciste has an alternative plan for the corrie and wants to reinstate the skiing facilities there following a community buy-out. This will be difficult if the infrastructure has been destroyed.

Cut down lift tower lying across the path up the corrie

To see what was happening on the ground I visited Coire na Ciste on the last day of August, walking up through the old ski area and then descending the ridge on the eastern side of the corrie. The day was stormy with frequent heavy showers, interspersed with storms of midges! Only when I reached the head of the corrie was there enough of a breeze to disperse the biting hordes. Waterproofs and insect repellent were two essential items of gear. The Cairngorm reindeer herd were up at the top of the corrie, presumably also seeking escape from the midges. The workers I passed removing fencing and cutting up metalwork were all wearing midge nets. Horrible conditions for this work.

Workers cutting up infrastructure

Despite the rain and the midges I managed to take some pictures of the corrie as it was on August 31, which you can see here. There's certainly some damage being done to the ground, especially at the head of the corrie. What the outcome will be I have no idea – I’d like to see the corrie restored to wildness. If the infrastructure removal continues it should be with minimal damage to the landscape. In the meantime I’m sure Parkswatch Scotland will be posting more detailed reports, which I’ll be sharing on social media. And maybe Cairngorms National Park will comment.

Near the top of the corrie

The derelict old lodge in the Coire na Ciste car park

Ski junk in the Coire na Ciste car park

Derelict structures in Coire na Ciste


  1. Chris, I agree that anything reusable should be removed as intact as possible. Would it be naive of me to also suggest that if removal is the decision, then it should cover everything - concrete bases included.

    1. I agree Dave. Removal should mean complete removal, including concrete bases. At present these have bits of sharp metal sticking out of them where the towers have been cut off. From what I saw not much if anything will be reusable.

  2. Shocking..I used to ski hers as a kid.. it was far better than the other side..lovely gully/ valley..and much quieter more scenic than cas side
    Best days of my life@!!

  3. best days of my life too................
    screaming down the Aonach at full tilt
    West Wall on a good day was unbeatable !best run on the hill by far !!