Avalanche Study of 30 years Mountain Rescue Statistics. 1980 – 2009

I started a project when my great friend Blyth Wright died a few years ago. This report was to commemorate  Blyth  as he was one of the key players in the wonderful Avalanche reporting Service we have nowadays and fought long and hard to get funding  for this now essential service. I went through 30 years Mountain Rescue incidents of 7894 in total. It was a labour of love and very hard work which took several years. I was helped by Doctor Bob Sharp and together we completed a report which is on the Scottish Mountain Rescue Website. Few have looked at it and I know we have lots to add to it but now after the tragedies of recent days it may give at least the figures of actual avalanches that Mountain Rescue Teams were involved in over a 30 year period.

I must state that this is only the avalanches that were reported through Mountain Rescue Teams as actual incidents. This does not include the various other incidents where people walk away from and self rescue or the avalanches that occur daily in the winter and are reported by the SAIS.

The full report is on the Mountain Rescue Website   http://www.mountainrescuescotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Avalanche-Study-1980-2009.pdf

This report is based on the analysis of all Scottish mountaineering (avalanche) incidents that occurred in the 30 year period 1980 – 2009. The incidents examined are those serious enough to require use of the mountain rescue services. All were reported to and subsequently recorded by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRC of S). All the information used has been taken from the official reports produced by the MRC of S and published either in the Scottish Mountaineering Journal or on the MRC of S website. It is likely that many avalanche incidents take place across Scotland but go unrecorded. In these cases, people who are caught escape with no injury or with minor injuries that don’t require mobilisation of the emergency services. Therefore, the incidents that are examined in this report probably underestimate the overall number that take place, but they reflect accurately those that are severe enough to require help from the mountain
rescue service and other agencies.

Scope of the problem
Table 1 presents basic information about avalanche incidents over the 30 year period.

avalanche info

This is just a snap shot of the report and is worth a read. I plan to work with Mark Diggins of the Scottish Avalanche service if we can get the time and the funding t0 put together both sets of Stats to give a unique insight into Avalanches in Scotland.

Lecture in Grantown On Spey on Sunday 17 Feb night at the Grant Hotel starts at 1830 for Scarborough MRT – Open to the public. Proceeds to Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Avalanche info, History, Lectures, Mountaineering, Views Political?. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Avalanche Study of 30 years Mountain Rescue Statistics. 1980 – 2009

  1. Freeheeler says:


    This post is very timely. I’d be thinking last night about how hard it is to learn lessons from mountaineering accidents because there’s no real structure in place to facilitate this. Debate about causes tends to be stifled at the time of an accident out of respect for those involved, but it’s rare for full accounts to become available: the media aren’t interested later on and there’s no obvious forum for information to be circulated.

    Statistics on accidents are important especially in trying to provide context for the non-mountaineering world. But they are only one part of the picture – we need personal eye-witness accounts too. If I had been involved in an accident, I would want accurate information to be in the public domain. There is always the danger of witch hunts and blame games but this is less likely to happen within the mountaineering world where we all understand that there are risks involved in what we do, and most of us have got away with things that could have ended up very differently. We learn from these experiences which is why we’re still here today.

    So, it would be good if this aspect could be brought into the work you’re planning on avalanches and it might serve as a pilot project for more thorough recording of mountaineering accidents in general.

    Looking forward to your talk at Boat of Garten in March.


    • heavywhalley says:

      Really appreciate your reply – I agree but Stats no one seems interested until they are needed. I agree much work has to be down but it must be done not purely by Academics but those who know the subject. Look forward to meeting you at the Boat in March.

      Thank you for your reply!


  2. Adam says:

    Interesting when you compare these numbers to other dangerous activities that be worth regulating such as getting out of bed which caused 99 deaths in the UK in 2010 alone. Obviously in order t get out on the hills you will have to be out of bed so banning hillwalking might have an even greater effect.

    Perhaps banning ice full stop since actually almost the same number of people died just falling over on ice (50)

    It does annoy me when people target activity that is perceived as dangerous when everyone sits ignoring the massive traffic accident shaped elephant in the room, 2% drop in traffic deaths would save more lives and since everyone is at risk from these kind of incidents and have no option to not be (unless you get out on the hills obviously)

    So to clarify we should all jus consider staying in bed and either dying of a heart attack or choking on food (203 people in 2010). I’ve just realised sat eating breakfast in an urban city centre right now I am hugely a risk. Best get into the mountains 🙂

    Thank you so much for taking the time to research and publicise these stats.


  3. Wee Kev says:


    Interesting reading indeed, given recent events and the oddness of location – the Gap.
    Take care out there!

    Wee Kev


  4. JIB says:

    Many thanks for collating the data and writing the report, because it really does enable informed and accurate debate to take place. There is an area that more information is especially required:- the number of avalanche incidents where more than one victim is caught (as overall numbers and percentages of incidents, and the same in terms of fatalities). The incidents this season, plus a significant number of reports from previous seasons (from memory), have involved multiple vicitims in the avalanche path. There is a hypothesis that there are particular issues in Scottish avalanche incidents with respect to the lack of awareness of:-
    1. Avalanche terrain, especially the individual and their position in relation to the potential avalanche path;
    2. ‘Safer travel techniques’ in terms of exposure to avalanche terrain – in particular, where only one person maximum is ever exposed at any single moment in avalanche terrain;
    such that the evidence of multiple victims in the avalanche path suggests that this should be a stronger focus in future avalanche awareness education. Comments on UKC from Davy Gunn, aka ‘Young Fox’, suggest that mountaineers are walking into avalanche incidents (my paraphrase), when compared to the behaviour of skiers (discuss). http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=538771#x7227986

    Keep it up the excellent work, this report and subsequent research will form part of the exceptional legacy to Blyth’s groundbreaking work on avalanches in Scotland.


  5. Pingback: Deep snow | Alan Kimber Mountaineering

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.