I love ski had the pleasure of a conversation with Colin Matthew, Cairngorm mountain’s Head of Technical Operations. We wanted to talk to Colin about how Cairngorm Mountain is dealing with the ever changing and uncertain Covid-landscape, and what their plans are in Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre for the coming ski season.

Colin Matthew at Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre
Image: Colin Matthew at Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre

These are uncertain times, but Cairngorm Mountain is dealing with the situation

 The tale of the story is caution and patience. This goes for the skiers as much as the resorts themselves. The common goal is to provide as much safe access to the slopes and other facilities as possible whilst maintaining all social distancing guidelines.

 Colin and the team at Cairngorm are expecting this year to be a little a different, but the challenge seems clear, as Colin explained, “it’s going to be difficult to manage expectation and uncertainty of covid restrictions”, “just limiting nicely, how many people we can take and how many restrictions we’ve got”.

Cairngorm Mountain slopes
Image: Cairngorm Mountain slopes

Capacity expected this year on the mountains

In fact, the Centre will need to monitor their typical capacity. Colin points out that “in a good season, pre-covid, and with the mountain rail operating, we could have a capacity of 2,500 on site, sometimes 3,000, but that’s a special day with full coverage and every lift operating”. This season, the plan is to have to likely restrict numbers based on available uplift and open terrain. COVD restrictions are also likely to have an impact on our catering and welfare numbers on site at any given time.

Preparations being made to deal with social distancing

The team at Cairngorm are adapting to the social distancing guideline rules to try and make the Ski Centre as safe for everyone as possible. As Colin details,

People out on the hills skiing are fine, it’s when they come down to the cafes and the toilets, that’s where the bottlenecks could be. So, we’ve got to be very careful, not discouraging people to come, but we have to be very careful monitoring our numbers.

The principal goal for the team at the station is to keep people safe and try to control levels of groups in the bottleneck areas of the resort. Colin goes on to remark that “it’s carparking, it’s shops, it’s the café and the ticket and ski-hire. The pinch points, the building for the toilets”, these are the problem areas for the ski resort. With that in mind, the team has put together a plan to try and resolve each one of these issues.

Cairngorm base station, shop and Cafe - ©Gillian Frampton
Image: Cairngorm base station, shop and Cafe – ©Gillian Frampton

Ticket office

 Starting with the ticket office. Although Cairngorm has a ticket office large enough to easily facilitate a one-way system, while maintaining social distancing, we are hopeful of installing online systems, and all payments will be encouraged to be made digitally, not on-site. This includes the ski-hire.


In fact, a special service is being considered. So as to lower the numbers of people collecting their ski-hire on-site, Cairngorm Mountain are considering renting a unit off-site. The building will be found around 10-miles away from the resort, close to the near-by town of Aviemore, if the plan is successful, it is hoped, skiers and snowboarders will be able to collect their hire the night before, or do early morning collections. The on-site ski-hire will stay open and will offer a limited offering, with pre-booking and payment essential.

Cafe, shops and toilets

 The safety measures and reduction in capacity also extend to cafe, shops and toilets. Inside the cafe there will be a sit-down service as Colin mentioned, it is going to be reduced to 50 people at a time. To cope with any further demand, the team will provide an outside catering facility, a mobile trailer unit, for take-away. Take-away will also be available from the regular cafe. Tables and chairs are going to be at hand outside, but it is expected that some people will have to resort to their cars as a place to eat and shelter from the cold. As Colin remarks about the coming season, “It’s going to be a very different operation”. 


Who are Cairngorm Mountain expecting to see this year?

It isn’t uncommon to receive visits from Londoners and Mancunians during a regular ski season. With the likelihood of UK citizens not easily getting to the French alps, the management of Cairngorm are expecting to see more Britons make the trip up north.

The main goal of the resort is to provide a skiing experience as safe as possible for everybody. So, while in an ideal world everybody would be welcome, in the current situation, Cairngorm see it more appropriate to take a reserved approach, “we’re looking to do things softly at the moment and see how they go with the Covid restrictions”.

Fortunately, the local support for the mountain Centre is strong, Colin remarks that “probably within a 50-mile radius there is a big enough pool of people to keep us ticking over”. So, there should be plenty of Scots who can make it to the slopes without having to stretch any travel restrictions.

Ptarmigan Restaurant at Cairngorm Mountain
Image: Ptarmigan Restaurant at Cairngorm Mountain – ©Tim Winterburn

Winter Season Launch 2020

The opening date is most likely to be December 19th. Although, last year’s launch was quite the affair, with “reindeer, bagpipes, music and ski clubs”. This year in line with everything that’s going on “we’re not going to do that, it’s going to be very low-key, much more of a soft opening.” According to Colin, “for marketing and PR our challenge this year is going to be getting a balance right of how many people we can let on the slopes.”

From the beginning of the season, Cairngorm mountain can always guarantee a certain level of snow, as Colin explains, “relying on our Snow factory at the bottom of our slopes.”  He goes on to say, “we create a beginner’s ski area, we use part of a surface lift with a rope handle tow.”

The slopes at Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre
The slopes at Cairngorm Mountain Ski Centre

Social media: How to find out about what’s happening at Cairngorm

Social media will play a big part in how Cairngorm Mountain plans to communicate their message to skiers and snowboarders. As Colin remarks, “we have quite a big following on our social media Facebook page, 96,000.

They plan to take full advantage of such a big following, and intend on announcing the daily capacity levels across their various platforms. “We are going to have to set a limit for the day and once we reach that limit, it’s managing that. We will look to social media messaging and social media communications to say when we’re full.”

In this sense, it’s very important that travelers looking to get to Cairngorm Mountain pay close attention to either their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts for updates.

cairngorm mountain staff
Image: Cairngorm Mountain Staff from 2019 – ©Cairngorm

Can any positives be taken away from the Covid-era?

We asked Colin if he could take away anything positive from the current health situation. In his response he praised the 40+ staff members, and replied, we’re thinking on our feet more of how to do the most we can but within the restrictions. Like the ski-hire online, the catering van, take-away food, social distance queuing, barriers. You’ve to think on your feet quite a lot. And even, thinking what restrictions may change in the coming weeks… try and come up with a plan that can adapt and be workable with keeping everybody as safe as, staff and customers.”