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The Winterhighland CairnGorm webcam is offline, and there have been accusations of skullduggery

29 November: updated to include new statement from CairnGorm Mountain

If you’ve been watching winter conditions and tried to access the Winterhighland webcams this weekend, you might have been puzzled to see a notice saying ‘This webcam was unlawfully removed from service by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd / Natural Retreats’.

Winterhighland’s CairnGorm webcams are located in the Scottish Ski Club Hut at the foot of the White Lady, opposite the mid-way funicular stop. Natural Retreats took over operations at CairnGorm Mountain in 2014.

The facts are that that, shortly before 10.30am on Friday 24 November, CairnGorm Mountain staff entered the Scottish Ski Club Hut and removed the Winterhighland webcam. Where things become murkier is whether they had any right to do this.

Offline

The closure of the webcams has sparked concern from mountaineers and winter sports enthusiasts, many of whom have used the Winterhighland webcams for years as a way of quickly gauging real-time conditions on the hill.

Private property

The Great Outdoors contacted Alan Mackay at Winterhighland. He said: “We have a voicemail from Janette Janson, the General Manager of CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, saying staff would go ahead and enter the Scottish Ski Club Hut and remove our equipment which was left on Thursday evening. I have emails from the SSC confirming they spoke with her and set out their legal position in regards to the hut being private property that CML did not have a right to enter.

“I don’t feel I can share these at this moment as I am going to give a statement to the police as we believe this is a criminal matter.”

In a thread on the Winterhighland Forums, Alan added the following: “It’s time for change on CairnGorm Mountain and if Natural Retreats still believe they have the right person managing CML then it only confirms that Natural Retreats is part of the problem and is not nor never will be part of the solution.

“Over the years Winterhighland has spent thousands of pounds to provide coverage and marketing that primarily benefits CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, we believe that a successful CairnGorm is a prerequisite to a thriving Scottish Snowsports scene and will restore the webcams to service asap and thank the Scottish Ski Club for their continued support.”

The popular Parkswatch Scotland blog has shone the spotlight on Natural Retreats in the past for environmental damage inflicted to the Coire Cas area, particularly hill tracks. In a short blog posted yesterday, Parkswatch Scotland ask why CairnGorm Mountain would want to remove the webcams: “Well, while they have their own webcams, these have been turned off at certain times and they have had reason not to want any independent evidence of what they are doing on the mountain.”

The post points out that the Winterhighland webcam was instrumental in providing evidence in 2016 of the unlawful works at the Shieling Rope Tow.

On Monday, the Scottish Ski Club added the following on their Facebook page:

“Members will be aware from recent web communication that the Winter Highland webcams have now been removed from the SSC Cairngorm hut. We wish to make it clear that, whilst some communication occurred between the committee and NR staff before the cameras were removed, our wish was that the cameras would be retained and any issues which may have arisen between WL and NR openly addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. SSC regret that this has not been possible but welcome NR’s decision to erect their own cameras to ensure SSC members and other mountain users have the benefit of the same viewpoints.”

‘A live, accurate picture of conditions at all times’

We contacted CairnGorm Mountain but were unable to speak to the manager, Janette Janson. However, we did receive this statement, which is identical to the statement CairnGorm Mountain posted on their Facebook page:

“We understand the concern that has been expressed about the removal of the Winter Highland webcam from the exterior of the Scottish Ski Club hut at CairnGorm Mountain. We would like to highlight that we had discussions with the Scottish Ski Club before its removal, and sought to consult with Winter Highland also.

“This particular webcam did not link in with the rest of the live camera feeds at CairnGorm Mountain. We fully recognise that the webcams are consulted frequently by snowsports enthusiasts to help plan their trips to CairnGorm Mountain, as they provide live updates of conditions at the resort. Our aim now will be to replace the webcam within the next week with a new one that feeds in to the rest of our systems, so that we can provide a live, accurate picture of conditions at all times on the Mountain.

“The relaunch of our CairnGorm Mountain App in anticipation of the winter season, will then give users full visibility of the main runs on the mountain in one easy to access location. In addition to the app, all live feeds from our webcams can be viewed at www.cairngormmountain.org/webcam-overview

The Facebook post attached to CairnGorm Mountain’s statement has attracted dozens of angry replies from users – although at the time of writing a large number of these replies seem to have been hidden by the admins of the page.

People aren’t happy

‘Not intended to mislead’

It’s worth adding that Cairngorm Mountain’s original statement doesn’t completely add up – because the webcams are located inside the hut, not on the exterior. According to Winterhighland:

“This statement from CairnGorm Mountain Ltd is not factual. CML did not remove the webcams from the exterior of the SSC Hut, as the webcams were internal looking out windows of the hut and could only be removed by entry to the hut.”

We got back in touch with CairnGorm Mountain to ask about this discrepancy, and received the following reply:

“Our team are working hard to install a new camera at the Scottish Ski Club hut at CairnGorm Mountain. The new camera was installed inside the building yesterday with the permission of the Scottish Ski Club, however we are experiencing delays with publishing the live feed. We expect this technical issue to be resolved imminently.

“The new camera will be called The White Lady Piste, and will be visible alongside all of our Webcams on Cairngormmountain.org and our App.

“This camera is a planned replacement for the previous one and we do apologise that this was not up and running straight away. We know that this camera location is used a lot by snowsports enthusiasts to plan their trip in advance and get live and accurate information about conditions at the resort. We would also like to take the opportunity to correct some misinformation we posted on our Facebook page yesterday. The camera was located inside the hut and not on the exterior, this was an error on our part, and not intended to mislead anybody.”

The new White Lady Piste webcam is now active – but is vastly inferior to the original Winterhighland webcam, as it does not include a date/time stamp or a log of previous images.

The new ‘official’ White Lady Piste webcam

So what is the truth?

CairnGorm Mountain claim that they had every right to remove the webcam, while Winterhighland believe this was an unwarranted (perhaps criminal) act. It’s too early to make a judgement on this as not all the facts have yet been made public. However, it seems obvious that there has – at the very least – been a serious breakdown in communications somewhere, compounded by a PR blunder and factual inaccuracies on the part of CairnGorm Mountain. While Winterhighland are upset about this, it seems the Scottish Ski Club have decided to take a more diplomatic position.

It seems that the CairnGorm Mountain is determined to have more control over webcams on the mountain. However, with their replacement service offering a significantly inferior experience to the original Winterhighland webcam, the losers here are outdoor and winter sports enthusiasts – the very people CairnGorm Mountain exists to serve.