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All things hiking Skills tips Winter

Scottish winters – are you looking for a winter walking guide?

Winter is when the Scottish hills mutate into proper mountains which need as much respect as 8000m peaks in the Himalayas. Every year there are reports of people going missing or dying in the Scottish hills. Though most people don’t realise it, it is relatively common for avalanches to go off in Scotland as well as in the Alps. Anywhere you find snow and steep slopes, there could be avalanches. Before you consider going out in winter you do need to be aware of the additional hazards and take them into consideration when making your plans. It is sensible to think of booking a winter walking guide.

If you are thinking about starting some winter walking it is extremely important to make sure you get some safety training. There are always deaths in the hills in winter. Safety training is not a guarantee that you will never have an accident but it does minimise the risk. It is important to realise though that as with all skills, you must practise. If you don’t, then the skill won’t be useful to you. For example:

on a winter skills course in the UK you are always taught “ice axe arrest” as one of the skills you will need to prevent a sliding fall. Can you imagine slipping on ice on a mountainside? The speed you achieve in a very short space of time will amaze you. Reaching for your ice axe and using it the correct way, needs to be instinctive. This takes practise as does assessing snow and ice conditions and knowing the local terrain.

winter skills

How to ice axe arrest


Planning to go out winter walking? You’ll need to book a skills course or a guide to make a start.

Qualifications to look for:

If you are considering hiring a guide/leader you need to make sure that they have one of the following qualifications:

Winter Mountain Leader (WML) – lead groups of hill walkers in winter conditions

Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) – instructing the skills of snow and ice climbing

British Mountain Guide (BMG) – required to guide climbing (including the coaching of lead climbing) skiing and mountaineering on rock, snow & ice, and in alpine terrain

Unless you are yourself, considering leading groups in the winter mountains, there is no need to go to the extent of committing yourself to this level of training. The courses take a commitment of months or years and previous training. For pleasure, you would only need to consider a winter skills course or winter mountaineering course, which can be provided by the above instructors.

your walking guide

Andy enjoying winter conditions in the Cairngorms

Want a guide rather than training?

A skills course is not the solution for everyone. After all, just learning the technical skills is not the learning journey, you still need to know how to deal with the added challenge of navigating in winter. Many people prefer the security of taking a winter walking guide because of the added challenges of the winter weather.

Scot Mountain Holidays delivers a series of winter walking holidays, expeditions and challenges. We can also arrange a private winter walking guide for you (and your group) if you are unable to join an organised group.

Winter Walking Holidays

New Year Winter WalkingClassic Winter CairngormsWinter MunrosGlencoe Munros –

Winter Expeditions

Snow Hole Expedition – Cairngorm 4000ers – Winter Affric Shangri LaKnoydart Winter Wilderness Expedition 

Build a snowhole in Scotland

Build your own snow hole in the Cairngorms

Winter skills and courses

The main difference between our 2 winter skills courses is that there is not enough time on the 2 day course to cover the essential skill of winter navigation. We do run a separate winter navigation course over 2 days.

2 day winter skills course5 day winter skills course

Alternative providers across Scotland

If our dates or our format doesn’t suit you please use our directory below to find a course or holiday which suits your requirements

Across Scotland – CnDo Scotland or Wilderness Scotland

In the Cairngorms – Talisman Mountaineering or Tarmachan Mountaineering or Cairngorm Treks or Cairngorm Adventure Guides

On the west coast – West Coast Mountain Guides or Martin Moran guiding or Abacus Mountain Guides

winter walking guide

Spectacular Cairngorm ridges in the snow



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