In the last few years there has been an dramatic rise in the numbers of people ducking out of ski patrol areas, or venturing in to the hills to climb, walk or ski during the winter. Many of these people don’t have the skills to keep them save in the potential conditions they face. I don’t mean that as condescending as it sounds, but I know I didn’t when I first started exploring the winter landscape of Scotland and France, and even now I seek out new skills and advice each year.
There seems to be an almost denial in Scotland and England that avalanches are ever going to be a risk. I guess for years we haven’t had the snow… but last year changed all of that, a number of large slides saw climbers walkers and skiers all trapped at one point or another. The press had a field day! The reasons so many became trapped were varied and wasn’t just down to people being under prepared, but was largely because so many people were out in the hills.
So what’s the process for getting skilled up for another epic British winter??? Well here’s what I would recommend…
To keep safe, you really need to educate yourself and whoever is going out in the hills with you… The best way to encourage your buddies to train up is to get educated yourself. I would recommend a good avalanche/winter skills course, this will provide the basic knowledge you need to be “saver” in the mountains and will encourage your buddies to follow suit. Try these guys for ideas… Glenmore Lodge, in Aviemore.
Next I would be looking towards kit… and I would want my buddies to be carrying a shovel AND a probe… Good quality ones, a metal bladed shovel please and a probe at least 250cm, as they make digging and probing easier… One is useless without the other… you need the probe to find your buddy and the shovel to dig him out! a package on these will be £80-£100
There are various plastic bladed shovels on the market which claim to be lighter and weight saving, have lifetime guarantees on the blades etc… but in my experience they flex, can break and aren’t as solid when digging through frozen snow, so there is only one option, a metal blade!
Next more education… Amazon along and find the following books… “A Chance in a Million?: Scottish Avalanches”
“Avalanche! Understand and reduce the risks from avalanches” “Snow: Understanding, Testing and Interpreting Snow Conditions to Make Better Avalanche Predictions” “The Avalanche Handbook” and maybe “Winter Skills: Essential Walking and Climbing Techniques” This lot of books is about £60 but provides plenty of essential reading and helps build a knowledge on how to stay save and what to do when you are caught out.
After this lot I would maybe start looking at a Avalanche Transceiver, but these are more personal, as each individual will need to use it under stress conditions so it must feel right. It will cost more and the joke is you buy the best one you can and give it to your buddy and take his cheap one, that way he has the best kit to find you! But seriously it needs to be easy to use and feel right. Once you have this… yep you want to be looking at getting a training course on how to use it correctly… how to do searches… etc… some of this will already have been covered but a refresher is always good… and then you needs practise in using it, with yep your buddies… so you all know how they work, the limits of each unit… and what to do when it goes wrong!
After this and hopefully during the process as well you need to get out and have fun in the hills… with a deeper understanding of what is around, what you can and can’t get away with and lots a respect for everyday we are out there! The best knowledge is gained through experience, but you do need the skills to cope with the experience in the first place.
This is my process in dealing with winter skills… other people will have different paths… just remember its not just your life you are playing with out there…
Remember have fun…