Talisman Mountaineering are long established local
Cairngorm Guides based in Aviemore. We have a proven
track record as local experts and a leading courses provider.
Established in 1992 we've successfully been running winter skills
in the Cairngorms for more than twenty years. The Scottish winter
skills courses take place in the heart of the Cairngorms
National Park with it's ease of access and it's reliable snow
Our fully qualified local
MIC instructors and
Winter Mountain Leaders
aim to give participants a fun, safe and rewarding introduction to
all the necessary skills required to walk and climb safely in the
mountains in winter. See the BMC
See also winter
Already done a winter
skills course and want to use the skills on the hill then see our
guided winter walking page
winter skills clients returning from crampon work and ice axe
SUMMARY OF MAIN TOPICS
Choice of equipment and suitable clothing will be
We will look at the range of clothing available and its
suitability for the typical damp and windy weather conditions found
in the UK as opposed to the Alps, Himalayas or more commonly the
city wine bar. Why does a jacket suitable for a summit bid on
Everest at minus 30 feel cold at plus 5 in Scotland and why do £300
branded breathable waterproofs often not work in the British hills.
We discuss the pros and cons of the layering system in a blizzard on
the Cairngorm plateaux as well as alternative systems such as that
offered by Buffalo and Nikwax. I'm not sponsored by these companies
so I can give an honest appraisal. The full range of available
mountain walking equipment is discussed.
Nutrition and exercise
...you need to drink lots!
The basic fundamentals of what and how much to eat and drink
during a typical winters day should never be underestimated. The
body requires calories not just for the physical exercise such as
swimming through deep snow drifts but also to maintain the bodies
core temperature to avoid the onset of hypothermia, as cold, wet and
wind continually drain the reserves. We look at ways to pace
ourselves and how to alternate and rest different muscle groups
during steep ascents and descents.
Use of Ice Axe
...Jack the axe!
...descending with axe ready
Using your ice axe to move on the typical steep
ground found while UK hill walking. This is the most important
and often neglected fundamental winter skill (why ice axe arrest
after a slip if you can avoid the slip in the first place!). How
to choose and where to carry your ice axe. The correct use and
position of an ice axe for walking up, down and across steep
ground, will give you the maximum confidence and minimize the risk
of any slip taking place. Practice is progressive and takes place
on short, safe slopes with a soft landing if all else fails and
all participants are provided with safety helmets. We only
progress onto steeper slopes once confidence is gained.
Use of ice axe for self belay. Stop before
Using your ice axe for self arrest in different
positions. You will be taught to
brake instinctively from a
variety of possible fall positions with and without crampons. We
teach you to react quickly and positively so that any slip or trip
is stopped immediately or before it can become serious. This is
one of the most important basic winter skill and is one of the
first things we cover on the course. See video clip
...putting or step cutting!
Cutting steps in hard snow or ice. An often
neglected skill these days with the advent of crampons, but if
practised regularly is extremely useful even when crampons are
being worn. The real usefulness of
cutting steps is however,
when negotiating short sections of hard icy snow that would
require several precious minutes to fit and remove crampons, when
all that is required is a few deft flicks of the wrist and you are
across. If you calculate the time saved in the short winter
daylight hours by cutting steps you'll often find an hour or more
is available at the end of the day. You will be taught to cut
slash steps up, down and across as well as being taught to cut
pigeon hole steps that are essential for overcoming the all to
common cornice that lurks at the top of a fairly straightforward
path onto a ridge or top. video clip
How to and how not to glissade.
How to self arrest if you lose or haven't got
an ice axe
...flying or practising ice axe braking!
More detailed information can be found on the 'Winter
Crampons & Footwork
...getting to grips with crampons
- Kicking steps and good footwork. Again often neglected,
why waste time and effort if you can avoid fitting crampons! You
will be taught the most efficient ways and methods of kicking
steps up down and across as well as being taught to slash kick,
boot edging and balance techniques on hard snow. The correct
choice of boots is fundamental and every year despite being
advised on the correct choice of footwear I often have some poor
individual slipping, sliding and nervously try to keep up with the
rest of the group wearing their comfortable 3 season boots (good
for hammering the point home!)
- Cramponing techniques. We cover basic techniques for
moving on terrain of different angles, fitting crampons, care and
maintenance. Front pointing, the french technique, and the
combination of both techniques. Good crampon technique and
footwork is an essential part of competent winter hill walking.
You will be taught the correct choice of crampon for the activity
and boot, when its sensible to fit crampons and when not. How to
adjust crampons, there maintenance and the best methods and
positions for fitting crampons in different locations and snow
conditions. Crampons are essential for British winter conditions.
Even on days when snow cover looks to be thin, extensive areas of
ice and hard snow may be found at higher levels which cannot be
walked upon safely without crampons. video clip here.
- The Use of Ski Poles. We look at the pros and cons of
using these hi tech zimmers/walking sticks! The ideal lengths and
how to avoid cold hands and injuries. And in particular when not
to use them on steep icy slopes and when navigating.
- Using ski poles for self arrest.
Navigation Techniques for Bad Weather
...navigation in sunout on the plateau!
Basic navigation techniques help avoid problems in
the first place.
Use of the map, compass & GPS 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.
...navigation in whiteout on the plateau!
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. See the
video clip for typical conditions on the Cairngorm plateau
Snow Structure and Avalanche Assessment
Avalanches are fairly common in the Scottish mountains and
contrary to public opinion are generally more prevalent on the less
steep terrain that a walker could find themselves on. 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 caught in an
More detailed information can be found on the 'Avalanche'
Navigation, Avalanche Assessment and Route Finding
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 deeper snow. Skilful
route finding enables you to use the minimum of energy, maximizes
your potential for the day and avoid dangerous avalanche prone areas
or long detours because a river is in spate.
Sample Winter Skills & Introductory Winter
The following schedule is for guidance only and
will be amended to make the best use of snow and weather
conditions. Each course is individually tailored to the needs and
aspirations of the participants.
Experience & Fitness required: Regular summer hill
walkers with a good level of fitness and stamina.
- Day 1 (Five day & Weekend courses):
Briefing on course, weather, avalanche reports. Checking and
issuing of safety equipment and the fitting of crampons to boots
before setting off to the Cairngorm ski area for instruction
on ice axe skills such as emergency braking ,
step cutting, kicking steps, use of crampons and
basic navigation techniques. (old waterproofs useful
during self arrest practise!)
- Day 2: (Five day & Weekend courses):
Briefing on avalanche awareness and weather before
setting of to the Northern Corries, Cairngorm to
consolidate and put into practise the previous days skills. The
main emphasis of day two will be on micro navigation
techniques, avalanche assessment, emergency survival
procedures, the construction of snow shelters
such as igloos, graves and snow holes and emergency rope work.
- Day 3: Consolidation of previous days skills
with emphasis on advanced micro navigation techniques such
as pacing, boxing, doglegs and searching techniques in the
heart of the Cairngorm plateaux collecting a few Munros on
- Day 4: Optional Snowhole Expedition Preparing supplies (Whisky?) and
equipment in the morning. Afternoon, setting off with heavy sacks
to navigate to a suitable snow hole site. Construction of large
group shelter. Relaxing for the night in the warmth and comfort of
your own snow shelter after an hour or two of
- Day 5: Optional Snowhole Expedition
Participants recover and dig themselves out from their snow holes!
Navigate home collecting a few peaks on the way. Evening