Cairn Gorm

Cairn Gorm


Cairn Gorm, also commonly referred to as Cairngorm (Gaelic: An Càrn Gorm, meaning Blue Hill) is a mountain in the Scottish Highlands overlooking Strathspey and the town of Aviemore. At an elevation of 1244 metres (4081 ft) it is one of the ten highest summits in the United Kingdom. It has given its name to the whole range, although these hills are properly known as Am Monadh Ruadh (the Red Hills) rather than the Cairngorms. Cairn Gorm is the most prominent of the Cairngorm mountains in the view from Speyside, but it is not the highest, that honour falling to Ben Macdui.

Much of the north-western slopes of the mountain are given over to downhill skiing developments concentrated in Coire Cas. As well as ski tows and bulldozed tracks this corrie is also now home to a controversial funicular railway.

The next corrie south of Coire Cas, Coire an t-Sneachda, is separated from the skiing area by a ridge known as Fiacaill a' Choire Chais. The southern side of Cairn Gorm overlooks the remote loch known as Loch Avon (pronounced Loch A'an) which is generally regarded as the very heart of the Cairngorms.

An automated weather station controlled by Heriot Watt University is situated on the summit of the mountain providing temperature and wind speed data.

Walking and climbing

The easiest route to the summit is simply to follow the ski tows up the centre of Coire Cas, however this route is unpleasantly scarred and for obvious reasons is not recommended as an ascent route during the skiing season. The ridge of Sròn an Aonaich lying to the northeast of the skiing area avoids these problems. Alternatively, Fiacaill a' Choire Chais offers a good scrambling route (though most difficulties can be avoided).

There are many climbing routes at the head of Coire an t-Sneachda, and in winter this corrie is one of Scotland's major ice climbing areas.

The Cairngorm ski resort


The ski resort was developed on Cairn Gorm from the late 1950s onwards. It became the second largest in Scotland (after Glenshee) and acquired a reputation for the most reliable snow conditions. By the 1980s, thousands of skiers were using the resort on busy weekends, and the slopes could become very crowded. There was pressure to expand the resort to the west, but this was blocked by environmental objections.

Since the mid 1990s, winters have tended to be much milder than in previous decades, a trend usually attributed to Global Warming, and skiing conditions have suffered badly. Usage has fallen significantly, threatening the financial viability of the resort.

However, the winter season of 2005/2006 saw Cairn Gorm have one of the most successful seasons in its history. From January to late March there was above average snowfall with nearly two metres on the upper slopes. At one point Cairn Gorm was ahead of some resorts in the Alps with regards to snow depth.

The funicular controversy

By 1990, much of the resort's original infrastructure was ageing and proving increasingly difficult to maintain. The chairlifts and tows were also susceptible to the high winds which the mountain is prone to, and were frequently forced to shut. The Cairngorm Chairlift Company, who operated the resort, proposed removing some of the old tows and replacing them with a funicular railway

There was strong opposition to the funicular from environmental groups, who were concerned about damage to the mountain and its fragile soils and plants. The eventual compromise reached, after negotiations with Scottish Natural Heritage, allowed the Cairngorm Mountain Railway to be built, but with restrictions on its usage. Only skiers are allowed to exit from the top station. Other users can visit the restaurant and visitor centre, but are prevented from leaving the building to walk to the summit of the mountain.

Further controversy mired the building project, with budget over-runs, allegations of conflicts of interest by those connected to both Highland Council and the construction company and questions raised about the use of public money. The construction was finally estimated to have cost around £19.6 million, mostly funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a government body. £2.7 million was provided by the European Union.

The funicular is still troubled, even though it has been operating since 2002. Mild weather and poor snow conditions in recent winters have limited its use by skiers, and it is increasingly dependent on other users. It has yet to make an annual operating profit. HIE is interested in selling the resort. There are also groups campaigning to remove the restriction on walkers leaving the top station.

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