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St John Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland work together to provide valuable mountain skills training for students.

Malcom Airey is the St John Scotland Mountain Safety Instructor and works with university mountaineering clubs, attending weekend meets with students and passing on invaluable skills and safety advice. His programme runs in both the autumn and winter terms.

For these, Malcolm will typically meet club members on the Friday night at the hut or accommodation where they are staying, and provide a safety briefing for those he will be taking out on the hill the next day. He will then help other students make good, informed decisions about their walking or climbing route for the next day. This is always done in conjunction with looking at the weather and avalanche forecast.

Most often he will go out with the least experienced of the students, usually the walkers who know very little about going into the Scottish hills in the winter.

Depending upon the weather and conditions, training will cover many of the basic winter skills such as cramponing, kicking and cutting steps, movement on steeper ground with an axe, route choice on steep ground, emergency ice axe arrest and avalanche awareness and avoidance. There will also be opportunities to look at developing and winterising any existing navigation skills. 

At the end of the day Malcolm will accompany students back to the accommodation for informal debriefs and chats over dinner and a beer. On the Saturday evening he will give a winter safety lecture.

Sunday might see Malcolm out again on the hill teaching more skills to a different group of students, perhaps looking at the basics of rope work on steeper ground, with snow anchors like bucket seats, buried ice axes and snow bollards.

Following the success of the Mountain Safety Instructor initiative over the first two seasons, St John Scotland has agreed to fund further sessions to cover the autumn months.

This will allow pre-winter training which will prepare often inexperienced students in advance of the less forgiving conditions in winter.

It will also give opportunities to teach other important aspects of mountaineering, like scrambling and rock climbing, which cannot be done in the winter.

To arrange a weekend session for your university club with the St John Scotland Mountain Safety Instructor, simply email Malcolm Airey

St John Scotland is a Scottish charity which spends a lot of time and money helping others through its commitment to life-saving and life-enhancing for those in need.

In its mountain rescue capacity it has supported Scottish Mountain Rescue teams for almost 20 years. Most of the support has been in the form of provision of 4x4 vehicles and mountain rescue bases for teams. However, in 2015, in conjunction with Mountaineering Scotland, it started a new initiative called the St John Scotland Mountain Safety Instructor.

In the past young people have unfortunately been at the top of the list of statistics of folk who have been involved in accidents in the mountains. Because of the high incidence of Scottish mountain rescue teams going to the aid of young people in the Scottish hills, St John Scotland decided that spending some money on an educational and instructional scheme might overall reduce the mountain rescue call outs and ultimately save lives.

Students who have attended meets with the St John Scotland Mountain Safety Instructor have been enthusiastic about the skills learned and the benefits they have gained from the experience.

  • "I feel like I know more about winter climbing and how to be safer. It was good to have hands-on learning because I will never forget it! The instructor was great and we all felt comfortable being led by him even in windy, snowy conditions."
  • "I learned some essential winter and general mountaineering skills that I feel have made me safer and more competent whilst on expeditions."
  • "I took winter more seriously and saw it in a different perspective realising my previous over-confidence as a competent summer climber."
  • "I now feel a lot more confident going out on the hill in winter, having now learnt the basic important skills. I am now much more aware of the risks of avalanches and how important it is to assess the situation and make a sensible decision on whether or not to continue in potentially dangerous conditions. It was also good to refresh my navigation skills, particularly in poor visibility."