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Winter skills courses in Scotland

By 13th October 2020October 5th, 2022Winter, Winter Walking


A winter skills course in Scotland, or the Lake District, is the perfect way to progress 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. It’s a completely different game in 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

If you’d like to know more about our winter skills courses in Scotland and the Lake District, then see the main page for more details and prices or see what our clients say about us.

When you are ready, then get in touch to make an enquiry or a booking. We also run winter skills courses in Snowdonia if conditions allow.

You can read our article on beginners’ tips for winter mountain walking.

Winter skills courses – beginner level

Two climbers wearing goggles huddle together for protection against the blizzard during a winter skills course in the Cairngorms

Coping with a typical Cairngorm blizzard

Our beginner level winter skills courses in Scotland or the Lake District are 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

Beautiful, intricate structures formed by the growth of rime ice crystals in super-cooled damp air, at the summit of Cairngorm on a winter skills course

Rime ice – an indicator of wind direction

For those with some previous winter experience, an intermediate winter skills course in Scotland or the Lake District 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.

A group of winter mountaineers enjoy the view after a guided ascent in Glencoe” width=

Simply enjoying the well-earned views

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a ‘winter skills course’?

A ‘winter skills course’ is the name commonly given to a course which aims to give summer mountain walkers/hikers the skills that they need to move around the mountains in winter conditions. Winter conditions mean that snow and ice are present in significant quantities. In turn this means that you need the skills to use specialist equipment, such as an ice-axe and crampons. Perhaps more importantly, you will learn how to make judgements about when and where it is safe to go in winter.

Do I need to go on a winter skills course?

Yes and no.

If you have never been introduced to the skills and knowledge needed to stay safe in the mountains in winter then you should definitely seek this out. It’s very much a case of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. A formal course by a qualified professional is a very good way of doing this. It will ‘kick-start’ your learning and get you off to a strong start very quickly.

There are other ways to pick up these skills too, though. For example, you can pick up knowledge going out with a club or with friends – but how do you know that what you are being told is right? And do they know the best way to teach people, and in a safe way?

Who teaches on a winter skills course?

In the UK mountaineering is an unregulated industry. Therefore, anybody can offer to run a winter skills course. That’s a frightening thought.

However, there are only two qualifications which indicate that someone has been trained and assessed in their ability to run winter skills courses professionally and safely. These qualifications are British Mountain Guide (BMG) and Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (WMCI). Check that your course provider has one of these qualifications and look for the BMG logo or the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) logo.

What will I learn on a winter skills course?

On a winter skills course everyone expects to learn how to use ice-axes and crampons. They all love the excitement of the sharp, pointy things! And indeed, these are certainly two practical skills that a winter skills course will cover.

But a good winter skills will cover so much more – and much of it is far more important. You are likely to learn about widely varied topics such winter weather; clothing and equipment; avalanche conditions; and navigating in the mountains in winter.

Where can I do a winter skills course?

There are two essential ingredients for a winter skills course – mountains and snow. The place in the UK where you can most reliably find these is the highlands of Scotland. To give you the best possible chance of a productive course, you should consider Scotland as your first choice.

Depending on the individual season, both the Lake District and the mountains of Snowdonia can give excellent winter mountaineering conditions. So the Lake District and Snowdonia are also good places for winter skills courses. However, due to climate change the chances of there being sufficient snow cover for long enough are sadly decreasing year by year.