SPRING snow and blue skies have provided CairnGorm Mountain with some of its best conditions for years; had things been different, it could have been a bumper season for Scotland’s outdoor playground.

Instead, the soap opera saga starring the ski resort once touted as a potential training ground for Olympians looks to be sliding headfirst into yet another bumpy chapter. 

Rather than speeding ahead with plans to take over the wintersport resort from Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust Ltd is instead considering running a much less significant operation – a pop up ice rink. 

The Trust has written to its members saying that running the temporary rink outwith the snowsport area would provide the “evidence HIE require” to press ahead with their community takeover plan. 

It also hints at some dissatisfaction with HIE, stating that despite having made various proposals regarding projects that could benefit the mountain resort, where they have been taken forward at all, the Trust has not been involved. 

The letter has sparked surprise among some observers, who point out that providing evidence of ability to operate a successful business is not a pre-requirement for making a successful Asset Transfer request. 

And it has also sparked questions over why the Trust, launched in October 2017 with a view to gaining community control of CairnGorm Mountain - and with a £90,000 funding from HIE to support its plans – has not yet made further inroads into achieving its goals.

Concern over the Trust’s direction comes as detailed plans for £20 million repairs to the stricken Cairngorm funicular railway were rubber-stamped on Friday by Cairngorm National Park Authority.

The go-ahead was given despite concerns that helicopters may encroach upon sensitive areas where breeding birds, including golden eagles, nest. There are also worries over temporary tracks scarring the upper area’s fragile landscape. 

The application’s timing also raised eyebrows, just a fortnight after a public consultation on the future of CairnGorm Mountain closed.

Public opinion on what should happen to the area – understood to include comments from some who are keen to see the troubled railway dismantled completely - was to feed into a masterplan for the area. 

To add to the saga, earlier this month local businessman Mike Dearman, a key figure in the community takeover plans, resigned as a director of the Trust, citing concerns over progress and frustration with HIE. 

The Trust has also lost its project manager, who left after eight months in the post.

Alan Brattey, former interim director with the trust, said: “The community trust was set up 30 months ago to try to take over ownership and management of the mountain business, and we might have expected some progress to have been made by now. 

“It’s extremely frustrating that the community trust appears to have been hijacked and is instead pursuing a pop-up ice rink. 

“There will probably be terrific support for that in the area because people have fond memories of the ice rink that used to be there, but it’s not what the Trust was set up to do.

“I feel it’s a shambles,” he added. “I never get any newsletters from the Trust, I don’t have a clue what is being done.

“It’s sad and it’s a pity, but I think unless the Trust changes, the idea of community ownership is a dead duck.”

The future of what was once Scotland’s premier skiing complex has hung in the balance since its £26 million funicular railway closed in 2018 due to structural faults.

An investigation by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland into HIE’s handling of the closure and its links with the company it brought in to operate the mountain, Natural Retreats, is due next month. 

Hazel Pavitt, chair of AGCT, said: “Asset transfer is our aim and goal, that hasn’t changed. But it is apparent it is not going to happen in one or two years. 

“It was agreed we would need to be looking at funding to run the hill. To do that we needed to be able to show potential investors, our work within the community, within the estate or around the estate. With climate change we have to be more creative than worrying about a ski resort. Life is changing whether we like it or not."

“When the Trust was conceived the funicular was running, there was an operator there. The situation has changed dramatically.”

She added that the pop-up ice rink is one of several ideas that have been discussed.

“People have talked to us about a pump track, allotments, a velodrome. The ideas are massive and wonderful. 

“Asset transfer is not a short-term gain. This will take years not months, but our goal hasn’t changed and HIE has been nothing but helpful.”

A spokesman for HIE said: “There is no specific requirement for a community group to undertake a different commercial project as a pre-requirement for a successful asset transfer request.

“We believe the trust is aware of this but also recognise that they cover the wider Aviemore and Glenmore area and not just Cairngorm and that they do need to generate their own income.”

He added: “We have supported the trust in many ways, including providing access to expertise and advice on community ownership, and funding two posts to help them develop their future plans."

“AGCT has also made us aware of their idea for a pop-up ice rink. While this is unconnected to Cairngorm or HIE, we agree it seems a potentially good project for them.”