Winter is perhaps the most magical time of year in the mountains. Blue skies and the sun glistening on the summits and the crunch of snow underfoot can make for some of the most rewarding and memorable days out. But just as with summer, when the weather turns on you things can get interesting.
For summer walkers wanting to take the next step into winter, there are additional skills and equipment to confidently make the most of this magical season.
If you are looking to gain some basic training with winter equipment with a view to going on guided trips, a two day course will be perfect. This is the Basic Winter Walking Course.
If you are looking to go out independently as a mountaineer with friends, you'll need a longer course where we also explore avalanche risk (where you can walk even with a high avalanche forecast), when and how gps can be useful, but a big emphasis on winter navigation too. It's all very well showing you the jedi tricks, but you'll need to get onto the mountain and safely off it so winter navigation and avalanche awareness plays a bigger part. This is the Complete Winter Walking Course.
Introduction to Winter
Where they are run:
These courses are run primarily from Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park, Scotland.
The area is generally filled with instructors running winter courses as well as skiiers. The area is brilliantly ameniable to running winter skills courses. We can drive pretty much straight up to the snow line and get started immediately. There is a good mix of terrain all within easy reach. Aviemore is on the main rail network from pretty much anywhere in the UK. There are good road links and Inverness airport is just over an hour's drive. There are also a huge array of places to stay - from youth hostels, B&Bs through to more expensive hotels. It gets booked up very quickly in winter however, so getting accommodation sorted is essential.
We tend to meet in Tiso in Aviemore before heading out to the hill. It's a chance to ensure everyone has the right kit, and I can fit crampons to boots. There is a large cafe upstairs and it's handy as if folks have forgotten anything vital it can be hired or bought in the huge shop downstairs.
To see the location of Tiso please click here. This opens Google Maps in a new tab.
I also run courses in Glencoe on the west coast. Glencoe is famed for it's spectacular scenery as well as bloody history! It is well served by road and coach from Inverness or Glasgow. Fort William or Tyndrym / Bridge of Orchy are the nearest railway stations, all about 45-60mins drive.
There are few places suitable to meet beforehand indoors but we'll let you know where to meet up. If we can't have a chat about aspirations we'll have a group zoom beforehand.
What the Courses Involve:
These courses will provide you with the foundation skills and knowledge to be able to get out in winter, either with a guide or to start creating your own adventures.
These are not climbing courses. The aim is to enable you ro use the additional winter tools effectively and appropriately, and gain some experience out in the winter mountains as a walker.
For those wanting more independence, understand more about avalanche risk and experience the level of navigation needed.
The weather and conditions, ever fickle in Britain will have a big impact on what we can cover. This will be true for every provider of winter mountain courses! There is no guarantee we can cover everything.
On the two day Winter Walker Essentials we cover:
Equipment and clothing - You will very likely need a bigger rucksack than you would have in summer. You won't want anything attached to the outside of your bag!
Efficiency in packing and planning
Personal movement skills which is essential to deal with different snow packs at different altitudes
Efficient use of your boots in different terrain
Walking in crampons
Use of the ice axe
Using axe and crampons on steeper ground (in a walking, non climbing context)
On the four day Full Independent Winter Walker, we will cover the above and expand on these skills to enable you to begin to head out independently:
Avalanche and weather forecasts - Even with a high avalanche forecast, there are plenty of routes you can follow safely. We'll show you how you can start planning routes by understanding the snow dynamics in the British Mountains.
Basic winter navigation and Route Planning - If you want to head out independently, you'll need to navigate your way into the mountains and safely back out again!
Emergency use of a walkers rope
Going on a mountain journey bringing together different skills
Winter navigation involves being able to accurately pace, time and follow a compass bearing accurately. You will need to have good contour interpretation. If you dont feel you have these skills, I'd recommend joining a NNAS course.
For both courses, repetition is critical and we aim to give you as much opportunity to practice the new skills as we can. The instructor:client ratio is 1:6 with a minimum of 2 clients to ensure that everyone gets the most benefit from the course. Peer-experience and sharing is an important aspect. 16-18 year olds are welcome if accompanied by a parent or guardian also on the course. Even if you have attended a previous winter intro course, if you haven't practiced the skills it is never a bad thing to have a refresher.
You will need to ensure that you have all the essential winter equipment beforehand. We can provide a walking axe, helmet, walking crampons that will fit sturdy leather boots, and ski goggles (we are not climbing but learning to swing axes around so best be safe!). We can also provide a map and compass for longer courses but you must provide your own map case. If in any doubt please get in touch. We do recommend that you hire B2 boots and Grivel G12 crampons but it is not essential. Mountaineering boots are as much of a tool as your ice axe is. Depending on where the course is running, we will provide information about where you can hire equipment should you wish to.
I've put together a range of resources. Some videos I've created covering the Be Avalanche Aware process, some great videos covering the more practical aspects by the British Mountaineering Council, as well as some pdf document downloads which can be useful. Please click here to view the content. These can also act as a great refresher for after the course.
Fabian is the tutor for our Intro to Winter courses. Apart from during the Covid winters of 2020-2021, he's had every winter season in the Scottish Highlands as well as working for 6 months in Antarctica as a research scientist since 2001. He will teach you the basic skills that have not only kept him alive throughout but also enabled him to absolutely love and look forward to winter in the mountains.
A competent summer hill walker wanting to gain confidence going outdoors in winter
Included in the course price is ice axe, crampon, goggle and helmet for the duration of the course should you need them. You are welcome to use your own if you have them already. You will need sturdy leather walking boots MINIMUM.
You will need to get your own accommodation sorted separately. The courses are non-residential.
The 2-day course costs £220 per person and the 4-day full course costs £400 per person. There are discounts available for booking multiple folks on for both.
Please get in touch if you'd like a bespoke booking for a club or society. Please note that a private course during the week is cheaper than at weekends!