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All things hiking News Skills tips Weather reports Winter

How to forecast snow

Understand Thickness and get an Advanced Snow Forecast.

Whatever winter sport is your passion, getting the most out of the UK winter season is inevitably about being opportunistic. You need to jump to it when the conditions are right. Getting into the hills requires some degree of planning. You need to learn all the tips you can on about how to forecast snow. When forecasters tend only to predict 3 days in advance, it doesn’t give much time to get organised. 

Season passes have been released by Cairngorm Mountain and quite possibly the other ski centres across Scotland. Now’s the time to keep your eye out for the snow predictions.

Understanding weather forecasts: how to forecast snow

This changes though when you understand atmospheric thickness and how it relates to the 5 day synoptic weather charts. Have you ever noticed those numbered dashed lines hiding behind the isobars? (see below – on Bracknell charts predicting 36 hrs or more ahead)  Well they represent the thickness of the atmosphere and this directly relates to the temperature of the air-mass. Bear with me, here’s the techie bit.

Air pressure at sea level tends to equalise at around 1000mb. The colder the air, the greater the density and hence you need less of it volume wise to create that 1000mb pressure. Therefore the atmosphere is thinner at the poles than it is at the equator. Meteorologists have realised that by measuring the altitude at which the air pressure halves (i.e. is 500mb) they can plot the movement of cold air from the polar regions towards the equator. In the northern hemisphere these thickness lines represent the southern limit of cold air moving down from the north.

How to forecast snow

As far as wintry weather in the UK’s mountains is concerned it’s the 528 line (equates to 5280m) you want to watch out for. When it crosses the UK you can expect snow on the hills at least. They are a bit like contour lines. The closer together they are the more the marked the temperature change but if, lets say, the 528 line is 300 miles out to the west over the Atlantic you might be at least be expecting snow on the highest tops in Scotland. If the 510 line approaches the UK wrap up warm, very warm! The charts predicting the arrival of the “Beast from the East” had the whole of the UK enveloped beneath the 510 line!

For those of you who can jump to it and might be in need of accommodation in the Northern Cairngorms area check out Fraoch Lodge.

 

Why go walking in winter

1. Why go walking in winter – Keep fit

It’s all in vogue these days. As our normal lives become more and more sedentary, there’s an increasing emphasis on keeping fit. As we get older too, it becomes increasing difficult to maintain our fitness levels. We can’t afford to hibernate over the winter. Instead of heading abroad, we can take on a new experience and continue getting out in the countryside throughout the winter months. If you find the winter weather a challenge or too scary, take a course to give you the confidence to get out walking the hills in winter.

Extra ways of burning calories while walking in winter include:

All of which you can tick when you go hillwalking in winter.

why walk in winter

As far as anyone can tell, the “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back” notion originated with Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. Since then, numerous studies by academic researchers and even the U.S. Army have concluded one thing on the matter: Weight on the feet is disproportionately more exhausting than weight carried on the torso.* To find out more read the links in our further reading section. Therefore walking in winter boots requires more effort and will burn more calories!

2. Why go walking in winter – Spectacular views

Guided winter walking in Scotland

Glorious wintry views in the Cairngorms

The air in winter is so much more crisp and clear than in the spring/summer months. In spring the large estates who own huge swathes of the Scottish hillside, often start to burn the heather to maintain the grouse moors. Obviously this produces a haze from the smoke which can affect visibility. In the summer the air is generally more hazy due to the humidity which then affects how far you are able to see clearly.

In the middle of winter it is possible to see 100km or more from the high hills. For example, Ben Nevis can clearly be seen from the summit of Cairngorm.

3. Why go walking in winter – It’s a challenge

Challenge is the big buzz word these days. Have you run your first marathon? Have you participated in your first triathlon/ironman? Tough Mudder anyone? Compared with challenges like these, winter hill walking is much more accessible and something you could do every day (in season). The biggest challenge for winter hillwalking is building up your stamina when you’re also trying to hold down a full time job. Many of us have deskbound jobs these days and the closer we get to “middle-age” (our 40s and 50s) the more difficult it is to maintain fitness and stamina levels. However, in the course of a week, many people find that their fitness and stamina levels noticeably improve on a guided winter hill walking trip.

why go hiking in winter

Statistics gathered on an autumn walking weekend in the Cairngorms guided by Andy Bateman

On a typical winter walking day out with Andy, the guests record steps in excess of 30,000 per day! You’d be well on your way to your #Walk1000miles at that rate.

4. Why go walking in winter – Camaraderie

Sharing is a major part of walking. People tend to chat as they walk in a group and often end up discussing all manner of topics; setting the world to rights. When you share an interest (i.e. walking) already with the people you’re with, chances are you have topics in common you can discuss without coming to blows. Of course, camaraderie is not something which is confined to winter, but there is something about pitting your skills against the environment which pulls your group together and gives you something to share.

5. Why do walking in winter – Gear

It doesn’t matter what sport you’re enthusiastic about, people love to talk about their gear and share their experiences of using it. When it comes to winter walking, if you’re a novice, you will need to make some investments to upgrade from your summer/autumn walking equipment in order to be safe in the winter hills. If you’re not sure it’s going to be your thing (though if you already enjoy walking, you might get hooked quite easily), you can always hire the technical stuff – winter grade boots, ice axe and crampons, before making the leap yourself into buying the kit.

Using an ice axe on a winter skills course

Ice axe arrest on a winter skills course

6. Why go walking in winter – Legitimate adult play in the snow

Sliding around in the snow with a sharp tool – sliding down a hill on your bum – digging in the snow – kicking into ice with crampons – all become legitimate “skills” when you’re on a winter course learning the “personal safety skills” of safe movement on the winter hills.

 7. Why go walking in winter – Cheap alternative to skiing

To go out walking you don’t need to pay for a lift pass for every day you want to go up the hills.

You don’t need to buy the skis and generally you’re further away from the ski lodges, so you don’t have access to the cafes and restaurants, which means you have far fewer opportunities to spend your hard earned pennies.

8. Why go walking in winter – Builds confidence

Gaining new skills and becoming proficient in using them builds confidence not only in the activity you are doing, but also in other areas of your life. It is always a good idea to keep your brain active and to learn new things, particularly if you are also learning new physical skills which will help your body remain fit as well as your brain.

If you’re a novice or if you’re lacking time to gain the skills yourself, remember that winter is harsh environment and not everyone has the experience to head up into the mountains but there are plenty of local, highly-qualified guides who are very happy to take you out.

9. Why go walking in winter – Something to share

It’s much more fun to share unusual experiences with your friends. Most people like to see images and videos of adventurous activities, spectacular views, mountains, nature – you can tick all these boxes when you record your experiences out and about in the winter hills, then share then on your favourite social media channel. You’re virtually guaranteed some interaction with your friends/followers.

Resources/Extra reading

*A pound on the foot – the science

The Great Outdoor Forum (Stack Exchange) – discussion on the science behind extra weight on your feet.

http://www.infographicspedia.com/lose-body-fat-percentage-on-walking-infographic/

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