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Play it safe in the mountains

Thursday 5th January 2017, 10:48am

Scotland’s Minister for Sport, Aileen Campbell MSP, has delivered her annual message to mountaineers urging them to take proper precautions through the winter.

She stressed that Scotland is fortunate in having a choice of stunning mountain areas where people can participate in walking, climbing and snowsport against amazing backdrops, but underlined that, in winter, the thrill of getting out into the hills comes with a health warning that should be heeded by all enthusiasts, whether they are beginners or experienced.

She said that there is a strong infrastructure in Scotland to protect people against potential dangers, helping them to make the right decisions about where and when to go, and what precautions to take when planning an outdoor expedition.

But last year, the 27 volunteer mountain rescue teams were called out to 579 incidents and assisted 776 people in difficulty in Scotland’s hills and remote places.

Aileen Campbell MSP said: “Outdoor enthusiasts look forward to the winter months when Scotland’s mountain ranges and wild places are at their most eye-catching. We want them to go out and enjoy them but clearly their safety must be their top priority.

“The vast majority of walkers, hill runners and snow sport enthusiasts are well prepared, and have safe and enjoyable experiences, but tragic situations do unfortunately happen.

“By taking simple precautions such as having the right equipment, knowing how to use it and having the latest weather information, anyone thinking of heading out will greatly reduce their risk of injury or accident.”

More than £1.8million is being spent to support a range of measures aimed at promoting mountain safety, including mountain rescue teams, the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service, Mountaineering Scotland and Glenmore Lodge, sportscotland’s national outdoor training centre.

The sports minister added that the vast majority of people would experience incident-free trips by following these safety tips:

  • Check the weather forecast and avalanche information service, changing plans if necessary
  • Carry a compass and map and know how to use it. Don’t rely on GPS or smartphone
  • Have an alternative plan in case weather conditions worsen
  • Attend a winter mountaineering course to brush up on your skills
  • Have all the appropriate equipment, including ice axe and crampons if conditions demand it
  • Leave a note with details of your route and when you expect to return
  • Read up about the risk of avalanche and how to spot the warning signs   

Mark Diggins, coordinator at the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service, said: “The beauty of the highland wilderness and the exploration of the hills, mountains, and glens provides a great attraction for walkers, climbers, skiers, ski tourers, and free-riders. Many thousands of enthusiasts enjoy the Scottish mountains every winter.

“However, the fast changing weather, with its snowfall, avalanche hazard, strong winds, and poor visibility requires us to be much more prepared when going into the mountains in the winter. Good clothing, navigational ability, appropriate equipment, movement skills on steep terrain, and use of ice axe and crampons are a necessary requirement for our enjoyment and safety.

“Also, getting good information helps any mountain goer decide where to go and what to do. Avalanche reports and other useful information which help with this important process can be obtained from the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service, Met Office and MWIS websites."

Shaun Roberts, Principal of Glenmore Lodge, sportscotland’s national outdoor training centre, added: “Scotland’s winter mountains are a world class arena for activity and sport, and the price of entry is preparation. To support your preparation, sportscotland invests in a world-class national training centre at Glenmore Lodge which has supported and led developments in winter sports since 1948.

“Additionally, we fully fund services to provide quality information, such as the sportscotland Avalanche Information Service and Mountain Weather Information Service. 

“If you are uncertain in your preparation then please seek advice and/or training from one of the many qualified instructors or guides operating in the mountains this winter.

“If you are an experienced mountaineer or back country skier, please make sure you take some time to gather the most up-to-date information and pack the kit you need. 

“Always take the pressure off your decision making by having an alternative plan for the day and be willing to leave the summit ascent or gully descent for another time.”

To help plan your activities this winter, check out the sportscoland Avalanche Information Service.  

Weather forecasts specific to mountain areas can be found at MWIS or the Met Office.


Photo by Nick Carter.