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Scottish Winter Climbing

Our popular guided Scottish winter climbing courses normally take place in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park or Ben Nevis areas where we aim to give participants a realistic, safe and rewarding introduction to all the necessary skills and techniques required for the exciting sport of Snow, Ice & Mixed Climbing.

On top of Scotland on our Scottish winter climbing courses..!


  • Winter Skills

  • Clothing & Technical Equipment

  • Rope-work & Belaying

  • Climbing Techniques

  • Use of Guide Books

  • Avalanche Assessment, Navigation & Route Finding

The early morning walk in can provide lasting memories......and so can the late evening walkout!

     View our many YouTube snow, ice and mixed climbing videos here>>>


Winter Skills

The revision of basic skills such as the use of the ice axe, braking, step cutting, kicking, cramponing, navigation and avalanche awareness. 

For full details click here to refer to the Winter Skills page 

Choice of Climbing Equipment and Suitable Clothing

The full range of available technical ice climbing and mountaineering equipment is looked at.  

Nutrition & Exercise

The basic fundamentals of what and how much to eat during a typical winters day should never be underestimated as the body requires calories and fluid not just for the physical exercise such as swimming through deep snow drifts and climbing ice faces but also to maintain the bodies core temperature to avoid the onset of hypothermia. Cold, wet and wind continually drain the reserves, particularly when sitting inactive on a belay ledge for an hour or so. We look at ways to pace ourselves and how to alternate and rest different muscle groups during steep ascents and descents as well as how to bring the circulation back to numb fingers and feet.   "A lot of time will also be spent discussing and cursing gloves and cold hands!!" 

Rope-work & Belaying

Basic rope-work

You will be shown various methods of using the rope in exposed ground for overcoming the odd rock/ice step and cornice. You will also be given the opportunity to practice falling and holding falls using waist belays and belay devices. The philosophy is simple, if you don't practice and trust it, you will never have full ( not fool! ) confidence in using it and that will severely limit your future progress. We will also look at the pros and cons of moving roped together and using stompers (looks good but is it safe?).  

Advanced rope-work

Looking for runners & belays in the winter can be tricky! so Its very reassuring to know your partner has a good belay?

We will look at single and double rope techniques, direct and indirect belays and the pros and cons of using belay devices or waist belays with snow and ice anchors. Getting stuck halfway up a winter climb can be very serious indeed especially with deteriorating weather conditions and the onset of hypothermia. If you don't succeed with your climb several pitches up you'll be shown how to use aid techniques to overcome short difficult sections and how to rig up multi-pitch abseils using rock, snow and ice anchors. 

Snow, ice and rock belays

The different types of snow and ice anchors will be shown, constructed, equalized and practiced. We'll look at horizontal, vertical and T-axe belays, snow & ice mushrooms, ice screws, threads and dead persons? The usual summer rock gear/anchors and their limitations in winter conditions (especially friends) together with the placement and removal of pegs is discussed.

Abseiling from climb

 View our many YouTube snow, ice and mixed climbing videos here>>>

Climbing Techniques

The use of technical ice axe and hammer to climb ice and rock

We look at the different axe techniques used to climb easy angled and steep ice when front pointing and the variety of hooking, torquing and turfing techniques used on mixed. The advantages and disadvantages of reversed banana and curved pick ice tools is also discussed.

Personal climbing skills

The huge variety of winter climbing skills used is taught and practiced throughout the five days. We also look at self rescue and what to do if suddenly pumped out and exhausted half way up a vertical ice/rock pitch.

Crampons & Footwork


The pros and cons of articulated and rigid crampons is discussed together with advice on the different crampon techniques and footwork required for snow, ice and rock.

Guide Books, Weather,  Avalanche Assessment, Navigation & Route Finding

Basic navigation techniques help avoid problems in the first place... this photo was taken in the same area and the same day that an incident took place on Ben Nevis due to a common navigation error...the day isn't finished until you arrive safely home.

Click for Cairngorm, United Kingdom Forecast

Navigation techniques for bad weather

Covering the full range of navigational techniques for bad weather and white-out we will ensure that basic techniques such as pacing, timing, following bearings, aiming off in bad visibility/night navigation etc. are covered as well as more advanced micro navigation techniques such as boxing, spiral and sweep searches. We will look at the most efficient ways to organize yourself and kit in strong winds, damp and sub zero temperatures to avoid maps, gloves etc. disappearing with regular monotony.  

Snow structure and avalanche assessment

Avalanches are fairly common in the Scottish mountains on the less steep terrain that walkers or climbers getting to or off routes find themselves on. The approach slopes, cornices and scarp slopes in the climbing gullies can be particularly hazardous. We look at the various elements which influence the stability of the snow. You will be shown how to use snow pits to examine the snow profile, perform basic shear tests, walking rutschblock tests and how to assess the danger of the given slope and similar slopes of the same aspect. We will also show you what to do if you are the unfortunate witness or victim of an avalanche.

Navigation, Avalanche Assessment, Route Finding and use of Guide Book!

Every year climbers come to grief getting to or returning from their days objective. In winter, streams, lochs and paths may be covered by deep snow drifts and completely buried. Detailed route finding becomes very important for conserving energy, especially in deep snow. Skilful route choice enables you to use the minimum of energy, maximize your potential and avoid dangerous avalanche prone areas or long detours because a river is in spate. Once you get to the foot of your objective we'll then show you how to use the guide book. Success on a winter climb is not just about climbing skill - it's about planning, conserving energy and knowing the best line to follow using that skill! 

To help confidence and to get the most out of climbing you need to know and trust your ropework...and  your partners!

dynamic waist belays

Sample Snow & Ice Climbing Programme

Mirror Direct

Steep water ice

The following schedule is for guidance only and will be amended to make the best use of area, snow and weather conditions.

Each course is individually tailored to the needs and aspirations of the participants. Clients who have previous experience in winter mountaineering and summer rock are likely to spend more time climbing harder routes than clients who have limited experience for obvious reasons...although that's not always the case!  The grades climbed are dependant on the motivation and abilities of participants who will be given the opportunity to lead under supervision. Should you wish to be guided up particular climbs please feel free to contact me with your proposals.

Mixed Climbing on "Savage Slit" Coire an Lochain

Ice climbing near Hells Lum, Loch Avon basin.

Winter Climbing Experience/Fitness required

Regular summer climbers/scramblers or winter hill walkers with a good level of fitness, stamina and the ability to tie a figure of eight knot!  You need to have attended a previous 5 day winter skills or mountaineering course run by a qualified guide or instructor in the last three years. If you don't have the required experience but would like to sample climbing ask about private guiding.

The 3 day winter climbing course includes 3 full days of guiding or instruction.

*Prior attendance on a 'Winter Mountain Skills' or 'Mountaineering' course essential*

  • Day 1: Basic rope-work and belays for clients without previous winter experience. The day will be spent looking at the construction of reliable snow/ice/rock belays and advanced rope work . You will also be shown how to escape from a climb by multi-pitch abseil etc. and may complete an easy introductory climb such as Jacob's Ladder.

  • Day 2: Climbing, axe and crampon technique coaching as well as the refining of rope work and belay construction. The practice and instruction is done during the climbing. This gives you the opportunity to refine your skills in the real stressful situation under very close supervision. A variety of grade 2 or 3 climbs will be attempted such as Spiral, Red Gully, Broken Gully, Invernookie, Fiacaill Coulor, Ewan Buttress, Vent, Ventilator etc.

  •  Day 3: The main emphasis of the day will be going out, climbing anything from grade 2 , 3, or harder and enjoying the mountains while refining techniques. Examples of climbs enjoyed in the past include Red Gully, Hells Lum, Deep Cut Chimney, Terms of Endearment, Mirror Direct, Doctor's Choice, Central Crack Route, Hybrid etc. Evening farewell celebration.

Interested, but would like to see who attends our winter courses and what our winter skills courses are all about? Well why not view the Talisman Blog, our Facebook page and our photo albums to get and idea. Many of the photos and our popular YouTube videos were taken during our courses. You can see what the press and magazines say here!

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Updated  03/10/2016

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