The Benefits of Winter Skills Courses

Every season has its beauty, but winter definitely has a wow factor like no other. Amazing light, crisp and fresh days and the delights of snow and ice. So, it seems a pity that come the autumn so many walkers hang up their boots and wait for spring. People rightly worry about ice, snow, low clouds and wind. They will be concerned about becoming lost or how to cope in the cold conditions.

But there is a way to keep on walking in winter in safety: Sign up to a winter navigation and skills course. While these courses have for years been traditionally seen as instruction for only the most hardened mountaineering addict, a range of winter walking courses are now aimed at the beginner.

The courses to look out for are “Introduction to Winter Skills”. These sessions will provide the ordinary summer walker with the techniques to extend their walking into the winter months. The focus will be on navigation in snowy or misty conditions, avalanche awareness, essential equipment such as crampons and ice axes, and some basic techniques like cutting steps into the snow.

Crucially, a winter skills course will also equip the hiker with the ability to make a sensible judgement about the weather. As one instructor says: “It’s the decision at the start of a proposed day’s walking that can make all the difference to a good or bad outing. On any good navigation and skills course you’ll be taught how to find the right weather forecast and how to make the right choice of route according to this forecast. It might be that you can adjust your original plan to suit, or it could be that you simply do not take that route at all.”

Why join a winter skills course?

An experienced summer walker, Sophie from York, wasn’t so confident in winter. But last year, she decided to embark on a winter skills course so that she could continue her enjoyment of
walking in the colder season.

She says:  “I’d always viewed the period between October and March as a bit daunting. While reasonably confident navigating in summer hills I knew that with snow on the ground and a heightened chance of thick clouds or mist I’d likely be out of my depth.

“I simply felt it was better not to go into the hills at all. The only problem for me was that this represented a waste of valuable outdoors time.”

She signed up for on a five-day winter skills course with Mountain Innovation, based in Scotland.

She says: “It was incredibly valuable in terms of learning new techniques and boosting my confidence. While snow and white-out conditions can pose difficult navigation problems I found
out how to effectively guide myself. Of course this is more of a challenge than in the summer but I realised it’s not impossible.”

Sophie was surprised, too, to discover that equipment such as crampons and ice axes are essential additions to walking kit in the winter months. She adds: “But once you are shown how to use this kind of gear you realise how useful it is. Crampons are not difficult to walk in once you know how and they can make a big difference to safety while hiking in slippery hills. An ice axe is also a great asset, but only when you know how to use it effectively.”

Now Sophie is looking forward to this winter. “I plan to get out a lot more in the hills, probably in Glencoe and also in the Lake District. I feel so much more of an all-round hiker and so much more confident of coping in all conditions.”

Have you found a winter skills course valuable? Are you joining one this year? Do tell us about your experiences in the comments

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