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Work starts on refurbishing top station at Cairngorm Mountain

By Gavin Musgrove

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The Ptarmigan has been closed most of the time since the funicular was taken out of action and due to Covid pandemic. Photo: Tim Winterburn
The Ptarmigan has been closed most of the time since the funicular was taken out of action and due to Covid pandemic. Photo: Tim Winterburn

Refurbishment of the Ptarmigan building on the Cairngorm plateau is under way after owner Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) approved investment of up to £780,000.

The building, which includes the UK’s highest restaurant, as well as a shop, exhibition space and viewing platforms, has been closed to the public for most of the time since the funicular was taken out of service in September 2018.

Operating company, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited (CMSL), has commissioned Beauly-based Simpson Builders Ltd to carry out the first phase of the upgrading works.

Resort bosses have said the aim is to meet the needs of the anticipated increase in visitor numbers following the reopening of the funicular next year.

The building’s viewing terrace will be made accessible to visitors on arrival.

There will be significant improvements to the catering areas including new fixtures and fittings, and redesigned dining, servery and bar areas.

The exhibition area will be upgraded with 3D technology offering an interactive and interpretive experience.

It will include 270-degree panoramas so visitors can ‘see’ the landscape even when it’s obscured by conditions.

The space will be adaptable for bespoke functions such as educational group visits, live sporting events, and scheduled exhibitions.

Over the next three years the upgraded building is expected to create more than 12 full time equivalent posts.

Susan Smith, interim chief executive of CMSL, said: “The refurbishment of the Ptarmigan building has been on the cards for a long time and is an essential part of our wider work to continually improve the visitor experience at Cairngorm.

"Along with the reopening of the funicular this will help reposition Cairngorm as one of Strathspey’s major visitor attractions and an important part of the area’s broader tourism offering.

"It will encourage more people to come here and to stay longer; something that will also benefit other businesses in the region.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward with the project and look forward to working with Simpsons over the next few months.”

CMSL is aiming to source materials and artwork locally wherever possible, as well as food and drink supplies once the building has reopened.

HIE has previously approved investment in energy efficiency across the site, including the Ptarmigan where a new efficient air handling unit with heat recovery will be installed as well as flow regulators on all taps. Together, these measures will help reduce the carbon footprint of the building.

Dave Macleod, head of property and infrastructure at HIE, commented: “We are very pleased to be able to support this project by CMSL.

"It will bring a range of benefits for visitors, for the business on the mountain and its employees, and possibly even for other local businesses and community groups who want to make use of the new facility.

"Added to this of course is the low carbon aspect, which is important as we move towards a net zero economy.

“We are very pleased to see the project get under way and look forward to it taking shape in the months ahead.”

The refurbishment started earlier this week and due to be completed around the end of the year.

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “This is a welcome investment which I’m sure will enhance the experience of visitors venturing up to the Ptarmigan.

“The use of 3D technology to provide a view, even if the mountain itself is obscured by the weather, is a particularly imaginative response to our often unpredictable climate.

“I’m sure everyone in the local tourism and hospitality sector – so important for jobs and livelihoods in Badenoch and Strathspey – will be looking forward to the completion of the project and the re-opening of the funicular.”

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