IT should be gearing up for the busiest time of the year, buoyed up by the first snowfalls of winter. 

But Scotland's top winter resort is facing another crisis after two of its nine tows - vital for transferring skiers to the pistes - have been deemed unsafe and can't be used until they are fixed. 

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors have issued three improvement notices on embattled CairnGorm Mountain, which is already reeling after its funicular railway was put out of action indefinitely. 

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (NIE) took over the resort at the end of last year after previous operators Cairngorm Mountain Ltd went into administration.

Now the new bosses have less than a month to get the tows, which service the West Wall Poma and Coire na Ciste, up and running by the time the main skiing season gets underway. 

HeraldScotland:

The ski slopes should soon be bustling

Campaign group Save the Ciste (STC) said it raised the alarm to HSE and HIE about the maintenance issues in November last year.

READ MORE: CairnGorm Mountain Limited enters administration​

Alan Brattey of STC said: "A consultant engineer had detailed maintenance issues in reports compiled in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and we had become aware that the necessary corrective actions had not been taken and public safety could potentially be put at risk."

The Met office say that nearby Aviemore was due to face its coldest night of the year last night (THURSDAY), while snow has fallen over much of North East Scotland for the first time this year, potentially heralding the onset of a cold snap for the rest of the country. 

Problems have dogged the resort for a number of years, with the resort’s market share sliding from 40.6 per cent in 2013 to 23.6 per cent last year amid claims of mismanagement from winter sports enthusiasts.

The funicular railway was supposed to be one solution, and it was constructed at immense cost with the goal of ferrying 300,000 people a year up the up Cairn Gorm mountain.

With a price tag in the region of £26m, it connects a base station with a restaurant almost 3,600ft up the slopes, but has been mothballed since October because of a problem with the structure supporting the tracks.

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HeraldScotland:

The funicular is no longer running

The problem centres on bearings between parts of the structure which support almost a mile of track. The bearings allow for movement in fluctuating temperatures, and are vital to the stability of the railway as it copes with freezing conditions. 

Previously, cracks were found in beams during routine inspection in 2017 were repaired the same year, although these are separate from the current problems.

An HIE spokesman said that skiers and snowboarders should expect a "limited" service this winter. Winter sports are estimated to be worth £10 million to the Speyside economy.

READ MORE: Ambitious £27m vision seeks to transform Cairngorm into year-round resort​

The spokesman said: "HIE subsidiary, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited (CMSL), inherited responsibility for resolving the notices when it took over operations on December 14.

"The company is providing HSE with assurances regarding maintenance arrangements to all other tows, which are ready to be used in the event of snow. It is also addressing the issues raised with regards to the West Wall and Coire na Ciste, neither of which will be used until the work has been approved by HSE.

"We need to be clear that while the funicular is out of service, uplift on Cairngorm this winter will be limited compared to previous years."

He added: "Our operating company, CMSL, is working hard to have the West Wall Poma and Coire na Ciste tows operational by the HSE compliance date of February 8. In the meantime, all other tows are ready for operation when the snow arrives.

"When planning a visit, we would encourage people to check the CMSL website and Cairngorm Operations Facebook page, where they will find regular updates on uplift and conditions."

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A grassroots campaign by the Aviemore and and Glenmore Community Trust has been launched, with the long-term goal of taking control of the resort through a community buyout.

Said to be the most complex in Scottish history, the plan is to create a new, all-year-round attraction with a network of summer mountain bike trails, an Alpine bobsleigh-style coaster, an education centre, and a self-sufficient hydro electric scheme.

READ MORE: From Scots Chamonix to community on its knees​

However, the buyout would dwarf in scale any other community takeover in terms of finance. 

Trust member Mike Dearman said: "We need a new model for CairnGorm because clearly what we've been doing for the last 10 years is not working.

"That's why we're pushing hard with our plans for an overall vision for the hill which involves new lifts and new infrastructure to try and make it an asset for the area instead of this liability."