Summer work on CairnGorm

A small selection of photos showing summer maintenance work, taken on the walk back down CairnGorm Mountain on Tuesday 16th June after the visit to check out the snow fields over the back.

The first two photos show the re-profiled M1 Poma unload ramp, steeper, higher, but wider fan out (to stop people catapulting round the bullwheel).

Following photos show new lifting rigs being fitted on the Coire Cas Tow, the Carpark Tow’s bullwheel mast down for repairs and repaint (two new or refurbished/repainted bullwheels in the Cas Carpark).

Final photo, the Sheiling Tow’s novel counter weight, or is it a CairnGorm proof ‘weather stone’. The captions might read:

Stone is Wet: Raining (or the lifty couldn’t make it till his next break).

Stone is Dry: Not Raining.

Shadow on the ground: Sunny.

White on Top: Snowing.

White on one side: Horizontal Snow.

Can’t see rock:  White Out (or mystic smoke drifting from lift shack).

Swinging rock: Bloody windy.

Bouncing rock: Lard Ass just got on/off Tow.

Rock Gone: Armageddon.

Glenshee Q&A

On Saturday 30th May with a perfect blue sky around 20 people gathered at Glenshee Ski Centre from 10am for a guided walk about with Dr Adam Watson. A selection of photos from the day have been put up in the Pix from the Slopes, as well as a number of photos/links and discussion about the day in the forum.

Gathering at the Cafe

Gathering at the Cafe

To start the day off prior to heading up the Cairnwell Chairlift and onwards to the Summit, Dr Adam Watson explained the proposed itinerary for the day over morning coffee, while Iain Cameron (Firefly) explained his idea behind the meeting, partly as a thank you to those who have contributed to snow patch monitoring in recent seasons through filling reports and photos on Winterhighland over the summer months.

As part of the day Adam Watson then introduced Willie Meston a manager at Glenshee who spoke about the company, Glenshee Ski Area and the season just past, there was then a question and answer session about Glenshee. Some of the questions were from recurring themes on the Winterhighland Forum and some of these were answered by the A4 handouts from Willie Meston.

Willie Meston gave a brief presentation on snow management at Glenshee, the principle method being the snow fencing, then grooming and snow farming with the Piste Bashers and finally the limited snow making capability that is primarily used on the Claybokie run.

Key points from this:

  • Snow fence management and repair is a major undertaking, Glenshee are currently replacing between 1000 and 2000m of snow fencing per year.
  • 1km of snow fencing was replaced on Glas Maol in summer 2008 including extensive repairs to the fenced traverse from the top of the Poma out to Centre Gully.
  • Newest Piste Basher is a 10year old Kassbohrer.
  • Different wind directions favour different fence lines and parts of the Ski Area.

Existing snow making system:

  • Entirely manual system, staff have to be on site to start up and stop the system.
  • Constant adjustments needed as temperature, humidity and wind fluctuate. Staff need to keep a constant watch as a sudden change in temperature could result in the guns blowing out water and ruining the existing snow by turning it into sheet ice.
  • A small water storage pond between the foot of the Cairnwell T-bar and Claybokie Poma.
  • The six manual fan guns used on Claybokie have a start up wet bulb temperature of -3°c, but -5 or lower is better.
  • In clear settled weather conditions with light winds such as under high pressures temperature inversions can be an issue, temperatures down to double digits below 0°c in Braemar but above freezing on the mountain.
  • Requires significant electricity input and Glenshee has to generate own power. System for Claybokie consists of the fan guns which are rated 30kW each, a 150kW water pump and uses a 380kVA generator.
Snow Making on the Claybokie on 31st Dec 2008.

Snow Making on the Claybokie on 31st Dec 2008.

Why & how was the Tiger Tow Removed:

Tiger T-bar taken out of service for safety reasons due to steepness and difficulty of up-track, to many serious accidents with the situation described as almost an incident every time the tow was switched on.

Towers were dropped out of the ski season and when there was sufficient snow on the ground Piste Bashers went down the line and were used to remove the towers from the hill-side.

Is there any life expectancy issue with the Cairnwell lifts, esp. the Chairlift?

All the existing lifts remain serviceable, however (as has already happened with the Cairnwell and Carn Aosda T-bars where the old diesel drives have been replaced by electric drives) the remaining diesel drives could be replaced in future. Cairnwell Chairlift will under go a refurbishment if it is remaining in long term operation.

Will the Courrour Poma operate again?

Courrour Poma has not operated for 8 years and it is unlikely to operate again in it’s current location. Subject to funds being available it could be moved to a more useful location, potentially to double up Butchart’s (T-bar or Poma). Decommissioned lifts being used as spares. Some newer poma tower work platforms have been removed and placed on older towers to make work on the lifts easier.

State of play with Meall Odhar T-bar and Pomas

Meall Odhar T-bar and Caenlochan Poma

Meall Odhar T-bar and Caenlochan Poma

Issue raised about redundancy and capacity issues as this has been a bottleneck in recent seasons.

Willie stated that the Meall Odhar T-bar would be serviced and that lack of time/resources meant it had not been possible to get round to it prior to the arrival of snow last season. Plans for future refurbishment of the T-bar with a new electric drive to replace the old diesel drive with external gear box – as with Butchart’s T-bar, more efficient, easier to maintain, more reliable and less diesel storage sites to maintain with electric drives. T-bar generally would be used as back up and for extra capacity at peak times as boarders prefer easier access over the back from the Caenlochan.

Also mentioned with regard stoppages that the Caenlochan line was considerably more exposed than the other two lifts.

Mention that Meall Odhar and Butchart’s T-bars could receive ‘redundant’ electric drive stations from CML.

Reliance of Surface Uplift for access to Glas Maol and Fionn Coire

The discussion over lifts on Meall Odhar brought the discussion onto the subject of the problem of not being able to access the reliable snow fields and runs in Coire Fionn due to runs/uptracks on the way over being incomplete.

Glenshee have a proposal for a Meall Odhar Chairlift to replace the Meall Odhar Poma on a slightly different alignment to the poma. Would need further good seasons to have funds to install such a lift.

Devil’s Elbow and/or Centre Gully Access Lift?

In the 1980s a detailed proposal was worked up for the installation of an access Chairlift from the Devils Elbow to the foot of the Meall Odhar T-bar. This would have addressed the access problem from the South where the road is more prone to closure in snowy weather than the road from the North.

Company concerned about extent to which such a plan would divide the Ski Area base facilities, without adequately dealing with the Glas Maol access issue. Meall Odhar or Coire Fionn could still be broken, while Glas Maol skiable, but still not accessible.

Late 80’s into the 90’s idea surfaced for an alternative Northern approach for a low level access lift, from the North side of the Ski Area. A new chairlift would head from the A93 up Centre Gully to the foot of the Glas Maol and Coire Fionn Pomas providing access to both without relying on either being complete. This remains a potential long term objective and is considered the best solution to the issue of reliable access to Glas Maol, but leaves open the companies concerns about splitting the base facilities.

Glas Maol Summit from A93

Glas Maol Summit from A93. Chairlift would largely be out of sight in Centre Gully.

Alternative lower cost solution to improving Access to Coire Fionn

All potential solutions have the issue of funding. An alternative approach is to extend the Sunnyside Chairlift towards the Meall Odhar Cafe, providing an easier interchange with a Meall Odhar Chairlift. This would would enable access to Coire Fionn regardless of snow conditions on Sunnyside, Cluny/Tom Dearg and Meall Odhar. However Glas Maol could still be inaccessible in this scenario.


Donald Morris brought up the subject of signage along with with the Gaelic bi-lingual signs which were put up this season just past. As a result of increased holiday visitors rather than local day trippers this season, navigation around the Ski Area has been an issue and new piste direction signage and extra instruction signs on correct use of the T-bars is planned.

Summer Activities, Mountain Biking?

Cafe at the road side is open daily following the refurbishment prior to last season. Cairnwell Chairlift will operate daily during the summer from Mid June this year.

Glenshee plan to use the Chairlift for downhill mountain biking using the existing estate landrover tracks on the Cairnwell side. Plans to add features to the sides of the track to enable the track to still be used, this means riders can easily avoid any feature without dismounting.

Other Plans / Issues for Glenshee?

Adam Watson mentioned the issue of Glenshee suffering in terms of funding support due to being the only Scottish Ski Area wholly outside of the HIE area. This contrasts to the situation at CairnGorm and Nevis Range and to a lesser extent at Glencoe and the Lecht where HIE has funded or contributed to funding of infrastructural improvements.

Willie Meston stated that another small lift that is a high priority is to install a short Chairlift between the Ticket Office building and the Cairnwell Cafe. This would make a huge difference to visitation in limited snow cover, as numbers drop dramatically if people have to walk to the Cafe. This is esp true when skiing is on machine made snow on Claybokie. Increased ski numbers in such situations would allow increased use of snow making and in good conditions remove the bottle neck at the Plastic Slope Poma.

The chairlift is currently sitting at the end of the Car Park adjacent to the Dink Dink Poma. There is not a current costing for it’s installation, though this is being looked at. New rules on installations (EU Cableways Directive etc) mean increased costs to bring lift up to scratch.

For other potential lift projects, Willie Meston mentioned the extent of availability of second hand lifts that are relatively modern at low cost if they can be transported from mainland Europe due to many French resorts replacing uplift on a 15year cycle.

Cairnwell Chairlift

Cairnwell Chairlift

Discussions were wrapped up with Iain Cameron and Dr Adam Watson leading the thank you to Willie Meston for his time and for allowing use of the Chairlift. The group then headed up the Cairnwell Chairlift before walking to the Summit where the fantastic visibility gave excellent views in every direction. Adam and Iain are preparing a full account of the walk about and afternoon discussions and site visits in Glen Clunie which will be made available in due course.

On behalf of all participants may I once again thank Glenshee for hosting the day, Iain Cameron for setting the ball in motion and organising the day and Adam Watson for a fascinating and informative day.