Like all of our facilities, the portacabin was kindly donated to the Ski Club (in this case by forest machine track business Clark Tracks), and installed by volunteers at the base station near Whiteside at 585m (1,919ft) as a temporary shelter while we sought funding for the permanent clubhouse which we hope to start building in summer 2016.
The temporary building has already been extremely useful for the storage of materials, workshop items and as shelter from ferocious weather for volunteers at work parties, and social club meetings such as the Open Day in May 2015 with its hill picnic to reward our hard-working junior members following a family fun painting party on Lowther Hill back in August.
Hundreds of hours of hours of volunteer work had been invested into bringing this structure to Lowther Hill. This involved, mainly, the collection and transport of the portacabin to Leadhills, finding a place where to leave the portacabin while permissions were sought from Planning and landowner, groundworks and preparing a base for the structure, organising specialist transport, crane, and support for the location of the portacabin at its new home, re-turfing the site after the groundworks, cleaning the interior of the portacabin, laying a waterproof vinyl flooring, testing the electrics, and sourcing donated furniture.
What are its consequences to Lowther Hills Ski Club this seasonWe will no longer have a building on Lowther Hill where you can leave your rucksack, sit down for your lunch, or shelter from a blizzard while you are on the Lowther slopes.
This will inevitably affect the number of days that will be safe to open the tow at Lowther Hill. For safety reasons, we will be less inclined to have people skiing on Lowther Hill if the weather forecast is not kind, as there will be no place to shelter in an emergency.
Storm Desmond's razing of the building also adds further pressure on our already very tight schedule of works for this season. The summer's poor weather has prevented us from making as much progress on the hill as we would have liked. November has not been good for pre-season works either, with a Storm Abigail, an ex-hurricane Kate, and a storm Clogagh making it untenable to hold work parties on the hill most weekends.
There are many other exciting jobs that we could be doing at the next work party, for example, building the first metres of our brand new, permanent, post and rail snow fencing but we will need to prioritise clearing the debris of the portacabin off the hill first. We could also be finalising a number of ongoing admin jobs, including the funding applications for the new clubhouse. Instead, we are currently organising the logistics of removal, storage and disposal of the portacabin debris.
What this incident should remind us of: we need proper facilitiesOur skiing facilities should be able to operate in an extreme weather environment that often sees hurricane force winds and extremely wet and cold conditions. It is not the first time that we have suffered weather damage and it will not be the last and we are prepared to deal with it. But the timing of this incident just before the start of the season is particularly disappointing.
Lowther Hills Ski Club is managed by a fantastic team with varied skills and supported by an army of wonderful volunteers and members. We will roll up our sleeves, we will sort it out, and then we will go on to complete the other jobs on the list. We have the vision, a great attitude, and have achieved an amazing amount so far. On a voluntary basis. And with no public funding.
But what do we really need?To develop the South of Scotland's outdoor capital, we need proper facilities that are fit for purpose and for the environment we operate in. We are good at making things happen, but there is a limit on how much we can scrounge, recycle, crowdfund, beg favours for, ask people to keep building for free, whilst expecting to get fit-for-purpose facilities as a result.
Last year, the Scottish Highlands received £5.5 million of public funding for its ski centres. No such fortune for Lowther Hills. A few months ago, government acknowledged that the southwest of Scotland has been overlooked. We approached the Scottish Government on this issue in 2014 (see their response here) and we will do it again shortly.
Update, 22nd December 2015
After two weeks of hard work, the remains of our temporary clubhouse have been cleared off the hill. Thank you to everybody for your huge support. Now back to business.