Walking amid a snowy landscape is the stuff of fabulous adventures – and great memories. But without the relevant experience and navigational ability, winter walking can obviously be very dangerous. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on your ideas of a winter wonderland walking trip, but it is important that you go with people who know what they are doing – or else join a winter skills course to learn more yourself.
How to walk in winter in safety
Winter walking festivals are a great place to enjoy winter hikes, but in the safety of an instructor-led group. Many festivals, such as Winterfest 2012 in the Scottish Highlands, include high-level winter walks and winter skills sessions as part of a programme. You could climb a snow-covered mountain, learn about safety skills in the winter mountains and take part in an avalanche awareness session.
Winter skills courses are offered by a host of outdoor guides and providers. You’ll learn how to use crampons and ice axes, how to arrest yourself should you start to slip or fall on a snow covered slope, basic avalanche awareness skills and how to navigate in a snow-covered terrain. Many courses also show you how to create a snow hole for safety in severe weather. The courses are geared to a range of abilities and you will join like-minded people as you learn the skills of walking in a winter wonderland.
Avalanche awareness courses are specifically for people who plan to get off the beaten track in winter. An experienced instructor will show you how to assess an area for avalanche dangers, the techniques for testing avalanche prone slopes and how to get to safety if an avalanche dos strike. These courses are for experienced walkers and the kit that is required to cope in avalanche-prone winter areas is costly. Avalanches pose a very real danger and it is vital that you know how to be avalanche aware if you plan to walk in remote and snowy areas.
The Winter Mountain Leader Award (MLW) offers experienced walkers the chance to gain a prestigious award. If you want to guide people in the winter mountains, this award is vital for safety and insurance purposes, but the award is also seen as a great way to gain experience for your own winter walking trips. The course is designed to teach and then test you on a host of winter walking and guiding skills.
Warm kit for winter walking
Temperatures will be very low when walking in winter, and especially at higher levels. The wind could also bring temperatures even lower. And being caught in a winter storm is a very real possibility. Make sure you wear plenty of layers for maximum air-trapping warmth. Down jackets or a similar man-made fibre, such as Permaloft, are essential items. Add warm trousers, gloves, hat, socks, windproof and waterproof outer layers and make sure you take extra clothing with you in your rucksack. Good quality three-season walking boots that can be fitted with crampons are a major item on your kit list, too. It is vital that you take with you crampons, an ice axe, a survival blanket and an extra down layer for an emergency in the winter hills.
While all this might sound a little daunting with just a bit of instruction or guiding, the winter hills are highly accessible for a wide range of walkers.