Booking one of winter skills courses in Scotland is the perfect way to move from being a summer mountain walker to a winter mountaineer. Nobody should underestimate the step change between roaming the mountains in summer, to being out in the depths of winter.
First, there are obvious differences. It will be colder for sure, but also the weather will be much harsher and more unpredictable in a number of ways. The days are shorter meaning that you have to make good use of the daylight hours. Most people are aware that ice-axes and crampons are essential in winter, and are excited at getting their hands on these vital bits of equipment.
But there are less obvious differences between summer and winter too. First, navigation takes on a whole different meaning with paths obscured by snow. What’s more, in that poor and unpredictable weather, there often isn’t much visibility. At the extreme end of the spectrum there is the possibility of having to deal with white-out. This isn’t just a bit of low-cloud – this is like being on the inside of a ping-pong ball when everything is white and you can’t tell which way is up.
Finally, there is the danger of avalanches. Many summer hill-goers are not even aware that this is a feature of the UK mountains – but every year in Scotland a handful of people die in avalanches. One of the most important winter skills is understanding just a little bit about avalanches, knowing how to find out information about current conditions, and being able to plan a route that avoids the danger.
Booking and Prices
We run winter skills courses in the Lake District and Snowdonia if conditions allow. You can also read our article on beginners’ tips for winter mountain walking.
Winter skills courses – beginner level
A beginner level winter skills course in Scotland is aimed at the experienced summer mountain walker with no winter experience. There is a lot to learn, and we cover it all. How should you dress in winter and what makes for an effective winter clothing system? What sort of boots do you need? What should you carry in your rucksack?
Of course, we will teach you how to use an ice axe; and how to put on and move in crampons. This is what many people perceive as the heart of the winter skills course. But there is so much more to it than shiny, pointy metal things.
We will teach you to navigate more skilfully, since in winter you are highly unlikely to actually see a path. Unfortunately, they tend to be buried under the snow. Most importantly of all, perhaps, we will introduce you to the topic of avalanches and how to plan your day’s walk to avoid the avalanche risk. Many clients are surprised that this is something that they need to know about, but usually find it the most interesting part of the course.
Winter skills courses – intermediate level
For those with some previous winter experience, an intermediate winter skills course will take you to a new level. You probably want to walk some peaks that are steeper and have more tricky terrain to cross. Perhaps they have short rocky steps or narrow ridges.
The intermediate level course will cover movement on trickier terrain. It will develop your navigation skills further and give you a deeper understanding of avalanches and how to avoid them. For example, do you know how the ice features in the photo below could potentially save your life?
For those who want to move onto even more technical terrain, this course could be tailored to include some basic winter mountaineering rope-work. This could include building anchors in the snow and using a rope to protect you and a partner over dangerous terrain.
For those with some prior winter experience and perhaps some experience of summer scrambling, one of our winter mountaineering courses might be more suitable.
Winter skills courses – guided ascents of Munros
Some of our clients already have a reasonable level of skill. They are quite happy moving around on snowy, icy terrain in the mountains. However, they don’t yet wish to undertake major mountain ascents by themselves. We run some courses which mainly concentrate on making ascents of significant Munros, usually the famous, much sought-after ones. But we also include an element of tuition in amongst the day’s guiding.
if you just want to ‘tick off’ some major Scottish winter peaks, then this is the course for you.