Uphill struggle to secure ski centre's future as it struggles for snow

A popular Scottish ski centre has launched a fundraiser to help give the business a boost after suffering a tough winter season due to a lack of snow.

The Lecht 2090 has been welcoming snowsport enthusiasts since 1977 and is urging supporters to buy a lift pass as a donation to help secure the future of the resort into 2025 and beyond.

Managing director Iain du Pon, whose father Pieter du Pon founded the centre alongside the late James McIntosh, told Sky News that the latest winter season had "been awful".

He said had it not been for the centre's snow factory and cannons keeping the lower slopes covered with man-made snow, there would have been next to no outdoor action at all.

"It was really terrible," Mr du Pon said. "The issue we've had this year is that we've had a bit of cold weather which has then yo-yoed with the warmth.

"Anything that we've either received naturally or then produced man-made has melted very, very fast.

"So, we've ended up in a position where we've literally run the whole winter on factory snow and man-made snow, and just been running on our nursery areas."

Thanks to the resort's snow-making technology, more than 6,500 children have been able to get out on the slopes in collaboration with local ski clubs.

"Which is brilliant, considering it's so restricted," Mr du Pon said.

'Power-hungry' snow-making facilities

However, the snow-making facilities - which are only designed to top up the powder - are "power hungry" and cost about £500 a day to run.

Mr du Pon said: "Ultimately, it's our cash side of things. We did quite a lot of development work last year, which we were hoping to recover some cost of it this winter, and it left us with quite a hole to fill."

The Lecht sits on the A939 between Cock Bridge in Aberdeenshire and Tomintoul in Moray within the Cairngorms National Park.

A JustGiving page and donations made through The Lecht's website have so far raised more than £24,000 of the £35,000 target.

Mr du Pon said he is over the moon with the support - which mirrors a successful fundraiser a few years ago for the snow-making facilities.

He added: "We're less concerned about survivability now. We still need to work very, very hard to get to where we want to be.

"It would have been a massively much more uphill struggle had we not been successful with crowdfunding so far.

"We're the last ski centre in Scotland that's still run by the original families, and it's never gone bust thankfully.

"And we're doing everything we can to make sure that continues."

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The winter season of 2021 was one of the best for snow in recent years, but ski centres across the country were forced to remain closed due to COVID restrictions.

Mr du Pon said: "It probably would have been one of the best winters for the last 20, 25, 30 years."

Outside of the winter season and as temperatures rise due to the climate crisis, the resort boasts a dry ski slope and has hosted go-karting and quad bike sessions in an effort to boost income.

Bosses have advertised the centre as a wedding venue, and there are mountain bike trails for adventurers to enjoy.

A race organised by Deeside Thistle Cycling Club last summer was "very successful", but the snowsport action is the money-maker for the centre.

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Mr du Pon said: "We've got mountain bike trails, and it is something that we're really keen to develop and push.

"We built them several years ago, but what we found in the couple of years gone past is that they frankly didn't make the money that we needed them to do to justify running the ski lift.

"The real bottom line is that we'll make more in one weekend during the snowsport season than we would for the whole of the summer.

"So, unless we can really develop something that's going to take off - and we've tested the water and we've done a lot of different things over the years - it's very hard to justify putting a lot of money into it to really develop it."

An efficiency drive last year included a new magic carpet lift, as well as the upgrade of gearboxes, motors and panels to lower the centre's power consumption.

Bosses also hope to develop the resort's staff.

Mr du Pon added: "I feel that we're in a really, really good position now to really push the business forward. We just need to try and get a bit of reliability with snow.

"So, it's a bit of a difficult period at the moment, but I think we've got a fantastic customer base. The support we've been getting from our customers is just phenomenal."