Avalanche Awareness

As the first snow is forecast on the mountains this week it’s worth discussing Avalanche Awareness.

Most Mountaineers have all the gear all costing so much cash but few spend money on Avalanche Awareness training. I would advise every winter Mountaineer to take stock of this Education and training.

“No matter how experienced you are you can always learn.”

I would love to know how many actually have been even been to a talk about Avalanche Awareness. As for attending a Course?

In my 40 years of Mountain Rescue we were asked to assist on some of the biggest avalanches all over Scotland’s cliffs. I cannot remember how many I attended but they were all over Scotland :Ben Nevis, Glencoe, Beinn A Choaruinn, Creag Mheagaidh, the Cairngorms, Skye, Torridon, Beinn Dearg and so many more.

As we assisted the local teams who had the local knowledge Of the cliffs I made it my remit to get to know these dangerous places. I climbed walked in these remote Corrie’s as often as I could dragging the newer troops around. In the end in my mind it was so helpful we would arrive at night in some wild Coire where many of the dangers were hidden by darkness.

Not a good task – under tons of snow.

I had worked and learned of the danger areas and often would ask the helicopter to drop us so we could appraise what we were going into.

Worth thinking about: Many hill walkers climb in new areas as do climbers with little knowledge of the danger areas. Of course nowadays there is so much advice on where and what to do.

Nowadays there is so much information available the Scottish Avalanche Information Service is full of information and it’s free. Nowadays there even is a App.

Decision making.

Yet many chase that climb or Munro’s come off on the dark and are unaware of the ground they are on. You could being a lot later than you think going home. Avalanches do not just happen to climbers and skiers. So everything you can learn about Avalanche Awareness is vital.

In the early days little knowledge was known before the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) was founded. It is hard to believe that when it was started there were a few key Mountaineers who were against its formation. I helped write a letter to explain how much it was needed to give advice to the Rescue Teams, Mountaineers and skiers. In the early days it was very basic and is now another well accepted tool in your winter skills box. From mid December the SAIS reports on six key areas. When I climbed/ winter MountaineerEd I regularly I read these all daily. I still do. In these days as we could end up anywhere helping on a call – out.

Top Tip:

Weather and Avalanche reports they are a “must read”before you go especially to an area that is new to you or your companions.

Read them and watch the weather forecasts before you go build up the weather /avalanche history of the area you wish to climb in. This means not only the day you go but before hand.

I learned the hard way and have written about my Avalanche on Lancet Edge near Ben Alder whilst hill walking in my first few days in Mountain Rescue. This was in the early 70’s when the quote I was told.

“Avalanches do not occur in Scotland”

After that I made it my mission to learn as much as possible. Yet later on I was involved in another epic on Lochnagar and was lucky to escape with our lives.

“I was at the invincible” stage and was so lucky see my blog for that tale.

Folk ask about Avalanche transceivers etc and there are far more experienced people who can talk about them. My friend Davy Gunn has a web site and is an expert who is an expert in Avalanches and has incredible knowledge of Avalanches in Scotland, the UK and beyond. I have known Davy for many years whilst working with the RAF Mountain Rescue he was a former member of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team.

Davy Gunn – Trained under the wing of the legend Hamish MacInnes a true gentleman and great leader, Davy became deputy leader and medical officer then for a while team leader. Many epics, much tragedy and some inspiring heroism from the sick and injured and their families. Davy is a member of the British Association of Ski Patrollers. Training ski patrollers and running first aid training for outdoor people from ski instructors to mountain leaders, gamekeepers, alpine guides or chalet staff. He is a man with huge knowledge.


My advice is to look at the advice on the SAIS website and maybe attend a course or some instruction on Avalanche Awareness.

This is a book to read on Avalanches.

What would you do if you and your pals were avalanched? It would be up to you could you cope?

That initial hour is so critical.

I have just working on interviews from a group who this happened to and their story is well telling. I will be writing it up soon. Look out for it in my blog.

Would you be able to help if your companions got Avalanched?

Food for thought?

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 Articles, Avalanche info, Books, Enviroment, Equipment, Films, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, People, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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