Scotland’s snowsports centres are facing another tough winter, although this time it’s not due to a lack of snow.
Conditions across the Highlands have been ideal for skiing and snowboarding, but the country’s five main resorts – Cairngorm, Glenshee, Nevis Range, Glencoe and the Lecht – are unable to open due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Recent years have seen several invest in artificial snow-making equipment because not enough was falling naturally to cover the runs – something which hasn’t been a problem in the last few weeks.
Trafford Wilson, chief executive at Snowsports Scotland, said: “It’s really frustrating, as we had wonderful snow last March and April during the first lockdown – and again we’ve got what some are saying are the best conditions in 10 years – but we can’t use them.”
He explained that the Level 4 restrictions have caused close to £30m of net income losses for the centres, with £5.6m overall losses to mitigate.
While the industry has utilised furlough schemes, loans and government grants, many were already in financial trouble.
“It’s really hard to be closed at the moment, because there’s no concern about demand – and we’ve proved we can operate with capacity limits,” said Wilson, noting that centres have invested a lot in preparation, with enhanced cleaning measures, contactless payment and guests having to book a slot online.
“The biggest problem is people not obeying the travel and car sharing rules – so help would be appreciated on how we police people turning up at centres from the wrong postcodes.
“The ski centres are pretty hand to mouth, with staff are focused on making the mountain work, rather than checking people in the car park,” he added.
Wilson did stress that he appreciates “ongoing conversations” with the Scottish Government about supporting the industry, which plays a significant part of the local economy across the Highlands.
At the end of January, the government announced a £3m funding package to support snowsports centres – increased from the £2m announced in December.
At the time, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Snowsports centres are critical to Scotland’s rural economy, worth an estimated £30m and providing over 600 jobs in some of our most remote areas.
“The funding will protect these businesses who are currently losing vast amounts of income due to be being closed as part of the measures taken to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
“All of this is especially difficult, given the mountain resorts are seeing some of the best conditions in years, so it is key that we inject financial support to make sure these centres are kept from financial ruin and ready to welcome back visitors when the time is right.”
Susan Smith, interim chief executive at Cairngorm Mountain, said the snow cover is “fantastic” at the moment, but public safety is her number one priority.
As for the centre’s finances, funding comes from parent body Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which she says has provided sufficient working capital to meet costs.
“We are prepared to open for winter snow sports if and when the First Minister lifts restrictions and enables us to reopen.
“We have a business plan in place for the next financial year and we are in discussion with our parent company on finalising these arrangements,” added Smith.
Uniquely for Cairngorm Mountain, the focus is on its funicular railway – connecting the car park to the lifts and slopes – being reinstated for winter 2021/22.