A 101 Reasons for the Glenmore Gondola

More than 50 years has past (along with several incarnations of the ski road, up CairnGorm) since a few of the pioneers first mooted a Glenmore Gondola.

A road that every winter presents an enormous and costly logistical nightmare to keep open, much to the frustration of skiers and boarders, esp. on those bluebird days, where the powder glistens in the sun across the mountain, but also lies many feet deep across the road. Costing CML tens of thousands of pounds a day in lost revenue when it happens peak season.

Modern cars simply add to the problems, wider tyres fail to dig through the snow sufficiently to bite the road and get traction to climb and lack of engine braking in the more fuel frugal newer cars render them like bob sleighs on the way down.

Coire Cas has long been the most popular point of access to the mountain core of the Cairngorms and it’s usage as such continues to rise in the era of the National Park. At present those who are not paying customers of CML benefit from CML’s operational outlay free of charge. With use of the Cas Carpark increasing for accessing the mountain range, the burden on the operating company increases, while total number of paying customers whom can be got on the mountain on a given day decreases. See debate over parking charges in Coire Cas.

Visitor survey’s indicate that the majority of people who drive up to Coire Cas, never spend a penny in the facilities on the mountain. With the closed system on the Funicular, the operating company’s ability to attract more folk to become paying customers is seriously limited. So to are the options to develop additional visitor attractions and lift served activities year round above the tree line.

Uniquely out of the five Scottish Snowsport Areas CairnGorm Mountain has the potential for meaningful upwards expansion, around 300ft of vertical which would give the Top Basin alone more vertical than the Lecht and almost match Glenshee. It would take the Cas Side vertical to the 2000ft mark.

The Daylodge itself is well up the mountain, sitting just over 1000ft above Loch Morlich, what if you could expand the Snowsports Area downhill too?

Downwards into a less hostile climate zone, to below the tree line where the Scots Pines would provide shelter from winter storms and where less sensitive ground would provide better potential for additional year round mountain activities below the worst of the weather on the high tops?

Sometimes you need to dream a little! This map first appeared several years ago, showing a piste utilising part of the ski road, with the Cas car parks closed. A part realigned and less steep mountain road accessing the Ciste Carparks, to rebalance the Ski Area and keep redundancy in access.

Rope way technology and planning has advanced hugely over these past 50 years, indeed even since the inception of the Nevis Range Gondola 22 years ago. Modern funitels are designed to operate up to 75mph, the limit on the Funicular is 70mph. Modern engineering designs has allowed in recent years for in-line curves in detachable grip chairlifts and mono cable gondolas, opening up the possibility for both a less exposed and less visually obtrusive lift line, carefully sighted from detailed modeling to minimize wind exposure, while locating individual lift towers to maximize the lift’s wind tolerance.

Detailed analysis by the then Cairngorm Chairlift Company in the 70s and 80s showed a strong inverse correlation between skier numbers and wind speeds, skier numbers drop of sharply on stormy days. It will not be the occasional winded off days from a gondola that will be the big money loser, it’s the present day situation when bluebird skies and deep fresh snow lie a couple of miles beyond the closed snow gates at Glenmore, when the queue on the road can stretch back to Aviemore.

Just some of the Benefits

A Gondola would mean all who take advantage of a high level access point at the Daylodge pay for the service provided. Indeed a Gondola could often get climbers in the depths of winter to the Daylodge earlier than is often possible with the road.

With a mid-station situated at the Sugar Bowl, the maximum flexibility for operations would be achieved. The lower section through the forest would very rarely be closed. While it’s interchange with various parts of the mountain path network provide additional options for lift assisted hiking, plus addtional various grades of lift served mountain biking in the forest.

In winter Coire Cas can be bustling, for much of the year though the sheer open expanse of the Cas car park and the manor in which it cuts across the contours of the mountain give it a rather bleak and unwelcoming appearance. The Cas car park is not a fitting arrival point to CairnGorm Mountain, and the principle point of access to the mountain core of the National Park.

Relocating the capacity of the Cas car park to Glenmore would allow an increase in overall capacity, while providing a much more pleasant arrival point, with a car park sympathetically laid out in the forest.

Having base facilities at Glenmore would also considerably ease many operational aspects. Office facilities would always be accessible. Ski hire could still hire equipment and the snowsports school still operate even if the mountain itself was stormbound. While on days when mountain operations are on hold in the morning, cars can be parked in the car parks, folk can be out making use of the facilities around Glenmore, spending money in the various businesses, plus operating company, rather than clogging up miles of ski road and bringing normal life to a grinding halt for those who live and work around Loch Morlich.

Could you really ski to Glenmore?

Plenty did in winters 2010 and 2011, exceptional you might say. Then consider this, downunder at Thredbo Australia, on average they managed 19 days skiing back down to Thredbo Village a season. Then came the snow making, the average now stands at over 100 days a season skiable back to the village.

Could this be the the sight below the Sugar Bowl rather than traffic jams in the future?

Imagine rather than standing at a pair of closed for the day snowgates on a bluebird powder day, instead gliding through the tops of the Scots Pines, the glistening white panorama of Loch Morlich emerging into view as you climb to the edge of the forest. Imagine 100 days a season of riding back to your car, at Glenmore after 3000 vertical feet of descent on a trail close to 7km long.

That’s at least 101 reasons for the Glenmore Gondola.

Mission almost accomplished…

On Thursday I hit the slopes at Glenshee with the intention of riding all five Scottish Snowsport Areas within five days as the start of half term loomed. Originally my plan had been to get both the Lecht and CairnGorm Mountain in on the Friday and move to the West on Saturday and Nevis Range!

Had I stuck to the original plan I’d have got the five areas done in four days, however having managed to bag B&B in the Caledonian Hotel in Fort William for £19 for Sunday night – I spent a day at the Lecht on Friday and took in CairnGorm Mountain on the Saturday.

A day practicing ‘Jedi Skiing’ at Glencoe on Sunday in incessant snow fall saw four areas in four days. But Nevis was StormBound, the SE wind that was blowing the snow around Glencoe was howling at Nevis and with the same windspeed forecast for Monday, left me with a bit of concern!

Alas the wind beat me, with Nevis Range again afflicted by a substantially stronger wind than generally in the Western Mountains due to local topography. However, it turned out to be a superb day at Glencoe on the slopes of Meall a’ Bhuiridh and five good if varied consecutive days sliding in Scotland. Also repeated trips up ladders deicing cams and weather stations at Glencoe!

On Tuesday it’s back to CairnGorm, may not be much sliding – wee project in hand! ;)

Oh and WordPress is patched up and talking to the server again.

Glencoe Access Run on Sunday afternoon.

Glencoe Access Run on Sunday afternoon.

Glencoe: Groundhog Day

As of Monday afternoon all the Glencoe webcams were back up and running, including the Summit Cam at the top of the Main Basin.  At this point I must say a big thank you to Nigel and the team at the Glencoe Hotel, who’s hospitality and support has been a great help to quickly restoring the webcam service once the physical damage on the hill had been fixed.

After spending much of last Thursday and Friday marching up and down under the Access Chair, searching for cable joints, then for complete pairs and joining the parts of the cable jigsaw together, as dusk began to fall on Friday afternoon the ADSL modem at the top of the Access Chair synced up!!

Colourful Dusk Sky on Fri 13th Jan

Colourful Dusk Sky on Fri 13th Jan

With that (and some server side stuff) the majority of the Glencoe webcam views came back online for the first time since Hurricane Bawbag turned 200 odd individual wires into a cable soup at the foot of the Access Chair – the wind at the Car Park having attained 106mph before the power failed – for more than a week!

The unrelenting sequence of storms since Hurricane Bawbag has caused further damage to buildings on the hill, the  concrete  hut at the top of the Main Basin T-bar losing 2 walls! With the repairs  completed early last week, the Summit webcam equipment could be returned to the hut and a new shelf put in for the kit. The computer apparently having survived being found buried in and being full of snow in the badly storm damaged hut, fired up, the vodafone dongle connected to the GPRS service and webcam images flowed from the Summit once more.

Old Summit Anemometer

Old Summit Anemometer

A new Peet Bros Ultimeter Automatic Weather Station (AWS) was also installed on Monday, to replace the previous technoline WS2300 which was torn to shreds in a storm last year. It’s worth noting the same model of weather station has recorded windspeeds over 100mph on several occasions without damage at the Carpark and SSC Hut – an idea of the windspeed required to do that!

By end of play on Monday all webcams were up and running, along with the new Summit AWS. All that remained to do was tidy a few bits up and put up the replacement anemometer mast at the SSC Hut. Then attention could turn to restoring the WiFi bridge from the Access Chair to the SSC hut, which would enable much more frequent webcam updates than the vodafone GPRS connection.

New Peet Bros Anemometer

New Peet Bros Anemometer in action on Tuesday afternoon. Rated to 160mph....

Alas, in the early hours of Tuesday morning the Summit Webcam Computer’s previous misadventures with a snowdrift caught up with it and it suffered a hardware failure.

So after realising that the computer would not work reliably if it booted at all, it was time to bring up a replacement, which was no small portable computing device, but rather a huge hulk of a tower desktop. Over the Plateau on a Quad Bike, up the Cliffhanger Chair, lugged it over to the foot of the Main Basin, then it was Ski Patrol to the rescue.

PC First Aid... Lashing a large desktop to a Ski Patrol Sled

PC First Aid... Lashing a large desktop to a Ski Patrol Sled.

Thus Tuesday was spent much like Monday, moving hardware to the top of the mountain, setting it up with the camera, downloading the backup scripts for the camera and AWS from the Winterhighland Server, configuring them and then getting it online. That proved to be another headache, the Vodafone dongle refused to work. So out came my own Three dongle, what do you know, HSDPA and a faster internet connection than I get at home on ADSL at the top of Meall a’ Bhuiridh!

So at the close of play on Tuesday, like on Monday, I left the top of the hill with Ski Patrol having just restored the Summit Cam and AWS to service. It was starting to feel a little like groundhog day.

Then while watching the rising wind at the Summit from the Glencoe Hotel on my laptop, this happened:

Anemometer Uh Oh!

Anemometer Uh Oh!

A gust just shy of 90mph is followed by a consistent wind speed reading of zero and exact direction of due South. That sort of wind graph gives a feeling of (probably costly) dread. Tomorrow wind permitting, we’ll find out what befell the anemometer and whether it or any part of it is still at the top of the mountain. I just hope after all the Glencoe team have had to deal with from the storms this season that we don’t find the building upside down on the T-bar off ramp!

Tomorrow could well feel a bit more like groundhog day…..

Summer Developments

As the season is underway, this info has been moved from the General Situation page. It updates a more detailed description in the blog post – Glenshee Leads the way.

The new Baddoch Chair at Glenshee now resembles a chairlift, with it?s haul rope up and spliced, awaiting fitting of the chairs. Once all the work has been complete, the lift has to be signed of by the DfT before it can open to the public, hopefully no further delays from them!

Glenshee has also installed a new trainer rope tow with it?s own segregated nursery slope adjacent to the Dink Dink Poma. An automatic fan gun has been added to the previously all manual snow making arsenal which can be used on Claybokie, lower Sunnyside and the nursery area around the Dink Dink and Rope Tow.

Glencoe has a new rope tow on the Plateau, providing an easier to access beginners area and an alternative way up to the Plateau Poma for those who struggle with it, the rope tow drops you just down from the Plateau Cafe. Glencoe has also started work on the hobbit houses and camper van stands and hopes (weather and relevant authorities permitting) to get these ready for the winter season.

Both Glencoe and CairnGorm Mountain took delivery this week of a state of the art TechnoAlpin T40 automatic fan gun to trial this winter, with logistical support from TechnoAlpin to assist in set up and train staff.

At CairnGorm the TechnoAlpine gun has a sump for water extraction near the top of the Sheiling Tow, which will allow snow to be made to deal with sometimes problem area at the bottom of the Gunbarrel / top of the Carpark Run. While at the lower end of the Carpark Run the lower Daylodge bridge has been replaced by a 12m wide pipe, so that Piste Bashers can farm snow from the Carparks to help maintain the bottom section of the Carpark Runs.

A Flat Calm?

No it hasn’t been a week of flat calm at Glencoe, the SSC Hut anemometer blew down during an October cold spell when iced up. Thus the weather station 2750ft is only reporting temperature and humidity at present, we’ll get the anemometer back up in November as soon as the Access Chair is ready after it’s annual service and weather conditions are suitable.

Will also get the Rescue Station camera overlooking the foot of the Main Basin switched on for the winter at the same time. Also, a new window pane has been taken up to the Summit, to replace the scratched perspex which sometimes affects the view from the Summit Webcam, this will be fitted when weather permits.

Where is the anemometer?

Where is the anemometer?

Glenshee leads the way into winter 2012

With a second consecutive 100,000+ skier day season at both CairnGorm Mountain and Glenshee, it’s fair to say it was another successful season for Scottish Snowsports.

There’s a lot of work undertaken every summer, often largely un-noticed by the winter visitor just to keep the lifts turning, but two good seasons on the bounce mean there’s some noteworthy developments for the approaching winter.

Glenshee is leading the way. With the new Baddoch Chair which is set to revolutionise access from the ticket office area to the Cairnwell side of the mountain. With significant snow fence replacement and a brand new start of the art PB600 piste basher for 2010, for 2012 Glenshee offers up the first new Chairlift in Scotland since the Snowy Owl at the Lecht in the 90s.

The new Baddoch Chair is short, but it addresses one of the most major bottlenecks on the mountain by providing non surface access from the Ticket Office to the Cairnwell Mountain Restaurant, the hub point of the Cairnwell lift network from where the Cairnwell and Carn Aosda T-bars, Butchart’s Access and Claybokie Pomas fan out.

This will benefit all ability levels and by improving access to the Cairnwell will help disperse early morning crowds. There’s also novice specific enhancements with a new nursery slope created adjacent to the Dink Dink Poma with a beginner rope tow and segregated first timer’s slope within the snow making area. The Claybokie Poma has had a major overhaul with half the lift replaced and snow fencing reduced, greatly widening the run making it an ideal area for snow plough turners to progress.

Glenshee’s not stopping with that lot though, new and repaired snow fencing over the past 2 summers is measured not in metres but KM’s. A second new Piste Basher in 2 years is on order from Kassbohrer and a fully automatic fan gun snow cannon will be trialled this winter to supplement the existing manual fan guns.

Alas at CairnGorm there is sadly not any good news to report on the ground with respect to the Chairlift situation in Coire na Ciste, though work remains in progress on a redevelopment proposal for the lower Ciste which is set to eventually see the Coire na Ciste Chairlift spin again. Support the calls for Chairlift reinstatement at www.savetheciste.com .

Though CML can’t match Glenshee’s new (or even a re-opened) Chairlift for 2012, don’t underestimate the amount of cash spent to improve the reliability of the uplift and thus snowsports provision on CairnGorm Mountain. Over £324,000 has been spent on the tows this summer, bringing the total for the past 2 years to over half a million.

The Ptarmigan Tow has had a major refurbishment of it’s drive station, following new electrics and control system last winter. The Ciste Tow has also had a major overhaul of it’s electrics and control system.

The decking of the loading gantries of the Cas Tow and West Wall Poma have been overhauled. The WWP has a new haul rope and new bullwheel guide rails which should help reduce stoppages. The Cas Tow set to enter it’s 50th season should be sporting all new oil boxes this season, these should make for much easier take offs, reducing the need for slowdowns and reduce if not end stoppages due to T-bars going over the line either due to miss-loads, people falling off or mishaps unloading at the top.

It may not be as sexy as a new chairlift, but it will all help increase effective uplift capacity on the mountain.

Glencoe is not missing out, a modest development which will have a real benefit for all is the proposed Plateau Rope Tow. Providing a novice area within walking distance of the Access Chair, this tow will reach high enough to provide alternative access to the Cliffhanger Chairlift. Helping to relieve queues at peak times on the Poma and providing an alternative to inexperienced snowboarders previously flummoxed by the Plateau Poma.

Keep an eye on the blog through the autumn for further updates and hopefully some photos from the areas showing the progress with summer developments.

Coire Cas Parking Charges?

With CairnGorm Mountain Ltd currently installing donation boxes around the perimeter of the the Coire Cas car park, an extension of the long established ‘carbon donation’ scheme. With a 2 year trial of a voluntary £2 parking fee ahead of a possible compulsory charge, the on-off debate about parking charges rages once more.

Coire Cas is the most popular point of access to the high tops of the Cairngorms and it’s use by non CML customers continues to grow, the occupants of the majority of vehicles who reach the Coire Cas car park around the year do not spend any money with CML. Yet despite being a public road, the car park is not part of the public road network, the maintenance of the carpark as well as snow clearing of both the car park and the whole hill road above the Glenmore Gates falls on CML.

As well as the obvious road related costs, there are also the provision of base facilities, the toilets, bins, the ranger base, the provision of information to all mountain users, the on going upkeep of the footpaths and indeed the removal of rubbish from CairnGorm. Considerable effort is expanded each year to remove sackfuls of rubbish from beyond the ski area, esp at the Ciste Mhearaidh and Coire an t-Sneachda (the infamous valley of turds and tea bags, two areas hugely popular for snow holing and from the vicinity of and indeed in the Shelterstone.

At present the full burden of the costs fall on CML’s paying customers, skiers, boarders, funicular visitors, those having a bite to eat in the cafe or purchasing from the shops. While at peak times each non paying customer taking up a space in the car park is a paying customer turned away at the Glenmore Gates, making it a double whammy for the operating customer. Providing a service to those who do not contribute, while turning away would be paying customers.

It’s difficult to argue that enabling anyone to drive slightly more than halfway up CairnGorm Mountain in the depths of winter CML are providing a valuable service to lots of walkers, ski tourers and climbers, plus of course commercial guides as well as to skiers, boarders and funicular users.

It is however not a service that is cheap to provide and costs are escalating. With Coire Cas already the principle access point to the Cairngorms and an apparent trend for increasing non customer use of the Cas Car park, surely it’s only fair that everyone who benefits from CML’s services make at least a modest contribution?


Kirkwood delivered a powder day Wed, snowed through the morning before brightening up PM. Blue skies at dawn in South Lake Tahoe, a bluebird powder day awaits at Kirkwood with the Backside and Chair 6 untouched yesterday!

Fire + Ice = Slush

At dawn a layer or inviting looking fresh blanketed everything in view from the window in South Lake Tahoe, but it soon turned soggy at Lake level, but up at the top of Heavenly around 8 to 10 inches had fallen with more coming down through the day.

^Top of Sky Express during a brighter spell on Monday.

^Looking out from the top of the Sky Express.

Snowed on the upper mountain all day, but turned to rain lower down. Snow stayed good high up, started good at most levels, but lower elevations the fresh snow turned to sloppy glue like sludge with the rain. That heavy potentially knee wrenching stuff you get when a reasonable depth of fresh thaws or gets rained on for the first time.

^The impressive newly opened Tamarack Lodge at the Top of the Gondola, opened during this season.

An excursion into the trees near the Powderbowl Express at the close of play wasn’t the best choice of the day, though marginally less endangering to one’s wellbeing then skiers left of the Gunbarrel Chair! Perhaps it was an afternoon for staying high up and retreating gracefully down the Gondola…

Standing in the rain outside California Lodge this afternoon I got a text telling me gleefully that CairnGorm Mountain was the snowiest resort in the world today.

Sierra at Tahoe

A largely overcast day with some blustery snow showers coming through on Sunday. Weekends inevitably bring crowds to Sierra, being the first ski area reached for those heading from the Bay Area on highway 50, but apart from the Grandview Express and despite Sierra being a fairly compact Snowsports Area queues were pretty short and non existent on the older duplicate lifts and over the back.

Mix of slightly firm grippy snow to loose chalky mid winter corduroy on the groomers. More snow expected overnight.

Grandview Express - not so grand a view today

Sierra in Snow

Highway 50: Meyers Grade

Heading down the Meyers Grade on highway 50 at the end of the day, far below highway 89 follows the valley floor before climbing over the Luther Pass, to join highway 88 to Kirkwood. With high snow levels over the next day or so, Kirkwood should be catching fresh at all levels with a 7800ft base vs 6500ft at Heavenly and Sierra. A break in the weather forecast later in the week, so hopefully Kirkwood will come good with a bluebird powder day!