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Suggested things to do

13 things to do in Aviemore and the Cairngorms when you can’t ski (updated)

1. Mountain biking:

there are trails all round the area plus several centres with purpose-built tracks like Laggan Wolftrax and Glenlivet Bike Trails. Bikes can be hired from Mikes Bikes or Bothy Bikes in Aviemore.

mountain biking in Scotland

Enjoy the wild parts of the UK out on your bike

2. Enjoy the Zip Adventure Park 

with G2 on the Alvie Estate.

3. Go Ice Skating

Aviemore has a community ice skating rink again and you can also use the all weather rink at Loch Insh

4. Walk a section of the Speyside Way:

you could take the public bus to Boat of Garten (5 miles) or Nethybridge (8 miles) and walk back to Aviemore stopping in the Old Bridge Inn for a pint on your return.

5. Hire a Canadian canoe

and paddle the Spey;

canoe with the Moray Firth dolphins or kayak/canoe on Loch Ness.

what to do in Aviemore

Water based options might not be as appealing as you think, but water is surprisingly warm in the winter.

6. Take a tour to Loch Ness.

what to do from Aviemore

a tour to Loch Ness is a popular option for our guests at Fraoch Lodge

7. Head up to Findhorn

and check out the Findhorn Foundation or visit the Kimberley Inn for lunch and walk along the white sands of the beach.

8. Visit the ice rink in Inverness

and try out ice skating.

9. Take a swim at Inverness Aquadome.

unfortunately the Aviemore pool at the Macdonald’s resort is not currently available to the public for swimming.

10. Visit Speyside

and tour a distillery plus visit the Cooperage

what to do in Aviemore - whisky tasting

Always a wet or cold day option – a distillery visit or whisky tasting.

 

11. Take a detour to Knockando Wool Mill

or Johnston’s wool mill in Elgin if Knockando is closed. Tours are every hour until 3 or 4pm and are free of charge.

where you can experience the whole wool story from shorn fleece to completed material.

what to do in Aviemore

Get crafty if you’d like some time and space to knit, ask Rebecca for recommendations

12. Visit the reindeer centre at Glenmore.

reindeer in the Cairngorms

If you like to see reindeer, you should come to Aviemore, particularly in the winter which is their natural habitat.

 

13. Visit the Highland Wildlife Park

and/or the Highland Folk Museum

what to do in Aviemore

Traditional village which is part of the Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum

 

Useful links:

New website for the Cairngorms National park highlighting selected experiences within the park – cairngormsnationalpark.co.uk

Snow-holing in Scotland Best Practice

Snow-holing in Scotland has a long established history in both our own winter mountains and further afield. Over the last 10 years, snow-holing has grabbed the attention of the media and the viewing public. This exposure has introduced and encouraged people happy enough to pay for the experience. Andy Bateman* of Scot Mountain Holidays asks, should we assume what works in other mountains will work well in our own?

 Likely Ambient Temperature

With the seasonal minimum in some recent Scottish winters approaching -20oC and an official record of –27.3oC, you would be forgiven for assuming you’d might be sleeping in temperatures approaching those of Arctic Norway.

Yet Cairngorm (1245m) has only ever recorded around half of this at –16.5oC (12th Jan 1987). Supporting this, Coire Cais Ski Base Station (630m) has a low of -9.2oC.  The residents of nearby Nethybridge (210m) though, claimed the mercury dropped to -31.3oC on 10th January 1982. Satellite evidence suggests they were right!

The vital bit of information on these -30-ish lows are that they were all recorded during temperature inversions. The cold air flowed off the mountains and pooled in the valley bottoms where it cooled further whilst the mountain summits remained appreciably warmer. These record minima are in no way a reflection of the likely temperature you would find on our mountains. It’s not surprising when we’re never that far from a relatively warm sea in the UK!

So what temperature is likely when snow-holing in Scotland, let’s say, in the Cairngorms at around 1100m? The seasonal minimum for 900 m is usually around -8oC. At 1100 m this could translate to -10oC. Far more frequently winter temperatures at this height are around -5 and above. Our mountains simply don’t experience anything like the temperatures you might get in e.g. Arctic Norway.

 

Avoiding roof collapse or sagging

Considering the warmer temperatures when snow-holing in Scotland, do we really need snow-hole features designed to capture warm air? Are sleeping platforms and cold air drains really necessary or should our aim be to lose the warm air?

Snow is a great insulator. A meter thickness in your roof and front wall is of vital importance in this regard. That is 20 cm of insulating snow both on the exterior and interior surfaces with 60 cm of well insulated structurally sound snow. Light penetrates to a depth of around 75 cm so if you see daylight, they’re getting too thin. It should also be borne in mind that a 1 m thick roof represents a considerable weight. It’s vital the front wall is adequately thick and strong enough to support the roof.

Snow-holing in Scotland

How high is that roof? Look at the apex centre.

Avoiding Avalanches

Snow-hole sites by virtue of their high snow accumulation and steep slopes can be prone to avalanches. To be safe, you may need to pick a slope with a more gentle gradient and spend more time digging out the entrance. The majority of avalanches occur on slopes at or above 30 degrees. To maintain a 1 m thick roof, on a slope less than this, you’ll have to dig in a minimum 2+ horizontal meters from the top of the doorway before you start widening out the living area.

 

An Apex Ceiling

Avoid large areas of unsupported roof by keeping your snow-hole narrow. Aim for a depth of 2 body widths between the internal surfaces of the front and back walls.

This means you can create a relatively steep-angled apex ceiling which helps to avoid any drip points. Warm air can then be channelled towards the ventilation holes at the apex high points. In addition with it running the length of the snow-hole it increases the height with minimal snow removal giving everyone the opportunity to straighten their weary backs!

Importantly it also removes the unsupported dead weight from the ceiling. This is one of the most important aspects of snow-holing in Scotland. Although not mutually exclusive, removing the ceiling dead weight is of more importance to ceiling stability than temperature! Very few, experienced and inexperience alike, pay attention to removing the dead weight. I’ve managed to snow-hole once at +5 Deg C without any roof deformation! The roof of a snow-hole I constructed for the BBC Travel Show lasted through until around the 25th June!! The ceiling at that point was only a foot off the floor, but it hadn’t collapsed!! Every other snow-hole at that point was merely a hollow in the snow. As you create the apex be careful not to make the roof too thin. The strength of the roof is in it’s thickness.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Here you can see quite clearly the shape of the apex centre for our snowhole.

 

The all Important Ventilation

Make sure there is good ventilation. My test is to regularly watch my breath. If it drifts off to one side it’s a good indication that ventilation is adequate. Cooking with pressure stoves in a poorly ventilated snow-hole is extremely dangerous due to the formation of toxic Carbon Monoxide. All pressure stoves work by first oxidising the fuel to Carbon Monoxide (CO) and then to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The different colours in the flame indicate this. Irrespective of good ventilation a pan of icy water can have a severe quenching effect on the flame preventing combustion of the CO. Research for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)** showed in heating a pan of icy water CO production could be significantly reduced by raising the pan supports higher above the flame. Snow-holers should acquaint themselves with the symptoms of CO poisoning.

To put this into perspective, I’m unaware of anyone in the last 25 years dying from CO poisoning whilst snow-holing in Scotland. I do know though, instructors who’ve attributed head aches to possible CO poisoning. It’s worth considering taking a small portable CO detector with you. In a snow-hole with a single entrance and no through air movement, ventilation may well be inadequate. Extinguish candles before you go to sleep as they also produce small amounts of CO.

Although the temperature may remain around 0oC you may well still be “injecting” appreciable heat energy into the snow pack. It takes considerable heat energy to turn snow at 0oC into water at 0oC so it will not be reflected in a temperature rise. It’s far more desirable that this heat energy drifts out of the doorways than being absorbed by the snow pack.

Further ways to improve ventilation

Make it large enough to stand up in. Large communal snow-holes are less prone to an abrupt temperature rise as they have better ventilation characteristics by virtue of having several entrances, etc. An entrance walled up with blocks in combination with an open doorway will often still allow plenty of ventilation.

Putting aside the dangerous scenario of cooking in a poorly ventilated snow-hole, I’ve never got up in the middle of the night to purely unblock a doorway for ventilation reasons. All the medical research I have seen (references below) doesn’t suggest there is any potential of becoming severely hypoxic in your sleep. Studies suggest sleep will become agitated, you will awake and in doing so get up and ventilate a stuffy snow-hole.

 

Make them big

One potential hazard of digging a small snow-hole is you don’t have enough space to put the snow as you attempt to extricate yourself after a night of severe drifting. On one occasion I did have to tunnel out 1 ½ m before I hit the surface!

 

Snow-holing in Scotland: tools of the trade

When it comes Scottish snow conditions, don’t underestimate how hard the snow can get. You will need a snow shovel with a metal scoop and a good snow saw. The sintering effects of strong sunlight and hard frosts of high pressure can make wind-slab snow astonishingly hard to dig. A good snow saw is often the only effective way to deal with this type of snow.

Snow-holing in Scotland

Check out the size of the saw. It’s old fashioned but really does the job.

 

“Pack it in & pack it out”

Many of the snow-hole sites are immediately adjacent to water courses. In addition, the snow pack often lasts well into the summer meaning there’s little opportunity for biological breakdown of human waste. If you do have to go you should do your business well away from the snow-hole site and far more preferably have some system to carry it out. Cairngorm Mountain’s Snow White Project has greatly improved the situation at the Cairngorm sites. All snow-holers coming to the Cairngorms are encouraged to use it.

 

Conclusion

The safety of a snow-holing in Scotland is often a reflected by the time it has taken to dig. I’m cautious about suggesting how long digging should take as it depends on a number of factors, not least the condition of the snow. From a “duty of care” perspective I feel a large communal snow-hole is much better than several separate small ones. I normally anticipate spending 4 to 5 hrs digging a 4 plus person snow-hole. I accept in soft snow conditions that this can possibly be shorter for a fit party of 2 each digging their own entrance.

With the vagaries of the winter weather, if done correctly Snow-holing is often the far safer option compared to a tented high camp in Scotland’s Winter Mountains.

 

* Andy holds the WML and IML awards and has over 20 years Mountain Leading experience. He has guided well over 30 commercial snow-holing trips in this time and although none of the mountaineering qualifications have a remit that covers snow-holing, he is one of the few guides deemed competent by HSE criteria of “relevant experience” to run snow-holing trips.

** British Antartic Survey helped in a BSc thesis. Available on request from andrew@scotmountainholidays.com

  

Medical references:

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/18665947

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/9340627

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/8355417

www.ncbi.nim.ni.gov/pubmed/15265339

 

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/

Thinking of going on a snowhole expedition?

The best way to build a snowhole

Andy Bateman of Scot Mountain Holidays leads at least 3 commercial snow hole expeditions in the Cairngorms Mountains every winter season. He has introduced scores of people to the magic of the winter season. He is also an expert at the skill of building a snow hole for a drip free night out in the mountains. To see what snowholing expedition experience is like for the customer check out our video on YouTube:

 

Ambient Temperature

Seasonal temperatures on the high hills in Scotland are never as low as those in the valleys. You need to take this into consideration when planning to snowhole. Here in Boat of Garten we get temperatures of around -20oC. The lowest ever recorded temperature on the summit of Cairngorm is -16.5oC. Cold temperatures in the valley always occur under cold settled conditions. This is when the cold air drains off the mountain. The cold air then pools in the bottom of the valley. This means that in the Cairngorms the temperatures are never as low as in Norway.

snow hole expedition

Enjoying an evening meal in the luxury  palace makes the snowholing expedition unforgettable!

Avoiding roof sag/collapse

In Norway, you need to capture the warm air. Most people learn to build snow caves in Norway. They learn to create features which capture the warm air inside the shelter. In Scotland, however, you are operating much close to the melting temperature of snow so sloping entrances, sleeping platforms and cold air drains become much less important for the snow hole expedition.

Roof sag is a combination of the temperature rising too much, poor ventilation and not having a thick enough roof or having a large area of unsupported roof. A roof and front wall of approx. 1m thick is vital. If daylight can be seen through either the roof or the wall, they are probably too thin. However, bear in mind that a roof that thick will need an adequately thick & strong front wall.

P1030028.JPG

An Apex ceiling

Avoid large areas of unsupported roof by keeping your snow hole more like a tunnel, narrow. Aim for a distance of no more than 2 body widths, side by side lengthwise. This means you can create a steep-angled apex ceiling which helps to avoid any drip points and allows you to channel warm air towards ventilation holes.

Avoid avalanches

Many snowhole sites by virtue of their high snow accumulation and steep slopes are prone to avalanches. To be safe, you may need to pick a slope with a more gentle gradient and spend more time digging into the slope. To maintain a 1m thick roof on a 30 degree slope you will have to dig horizontally 2m from the top of the doorway before widening out.

P1010815.JPG

Ventilation

Make sure there is good ventilation and regularly watch your breath then you will avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. If you see it drifting off to one side, it’s a good indication that ventilation is adequate. Never cook in a snowhole without regularly checking there is adequate ventilation.

It’s a good idea to create ventilation holes in your snow hole because of the Scottish climatic conditions.

Make your snow hole large enough to stand up in so you don’t get back ache from crouching.

Make them big

One potential hazard of digging a small snow hole is that you don’t have enough space to put the snow when you attempt to extricate yourself in the morning. One of the snowholes Andy built in the Cairngorms involved digging out through 1.5m of fresh, drifted snow to get out in the morning.

P1030022.JPG

Snowholing expedition Tools

Never underestimate how hard the Scottish snow pack could be. At least make sure your snow shovel has a metal scoop and that you are also carrying a snow saw.

Conclusion

Time taken to construct your snow hole is vital. A communal snow hole can take 4 – 5 hours to dig to make sure that you have the best construction possible.

17261.jpg

 

See more about our snow hole expedition!

Winter fun in Scotland

What’s your favourite season?

One of our reasons for moving to the Cairngorms was that we knew we would experience a “proper” winter i.e. snow. None of this wet and slightly cool weather which seems to characterise winter in the London area. No we wanted proper snow. That white stuff which seems to terrorise the rail network and bring London to a grinding halt. Here in the Highlands it can be something to be enjoyed. Fortunately there are others who are of the same mindset as us and look forward to a proper winter season so they can dust off their skis or crampons or snowboards.

Plenty of winter fun to be had here in the Cairngorms. Here’s just a small selection of activities you could enjoy:

A fun packed week in the Cairngorms!

Sonja, Cormac and Katie came to visit Fraoch Lodge Dec 2012 to early New Year 2013. Cormac was booked on our Hogmanay Winter Skills trip as a treat for his significant birthday; which left Sonja and Katie to fill the week with their own activities. They managed to keep themselves very well occupied for the week. Katie even tried to roll her own pasta one evening. She was very pleased – so much more to report back to her friends than she expected.

Sonja kindly agreed to write up their adventures here:

hogmanay winter skills

Navigating on New Year’s Day

The big idea

Cormac’s big birthday was fast approaching and I had no clue what I was going to do. He is an avid hillwalker and mountaineer so I felt something in Scotland might be a good plan. We spend quite a bit of time in the Glencoe area so I wanted to try somewhere new. The Cairngorms National Park seemed the obvious choice. I had spotted Fraoch Lodge while surfing ‘the net’. The idea of a Winter skills courses combined with freshly made homemade bread appealed to me straight away.

I enquired online, then Andy (one of the proprietors) responded to me straight away. He answered all my queries and came back with an excellent price for two adults and a child for a week’s stay with a course included.

winter skills course

Ice axe arrest on the snowy slopes of Cairngorm, Scotland

So Cormac would be yomping around the Cairngorms for the week, digging snow-holes and cutting steps etc.  Now what to do with a nine year old adventuresome type girl?

We decided a spot of snowboarding would be just the ticket.

For the rest of the family

We set off for Scotland early on the 27th of December and caught a ferry from Belfast to Stranraer. Our drive was scenic but uneventful. Upon arrival at Fraoch Lodge, wee Gregor, a roaring fire and tea and cake greeted us. This was all very, very welcome after a 12 hour journey in the car. Each afternoon we would enjoy a variety of cakes in front of the fire. This quickly became my favourite part of the day.

Soon the rest of the Hogmanay group arrived.  We all met in the dining room for a hearty two-course dinner with our hosts. Plans were made for the next day and most of us retired to bed or the cosy warmth of the sitting room. Our rooms were great, clean, comfortable and warm, which just added to our sense of being in a home from home.

Alternatives to snowsports

The next morning dawned bright and clear. Katy (the adventurous nine year old) and I, set out for Aviemore to the local tourist office to find out what was available to us in the area. We were unable to go snowboarding due to the gusting winds up at the piste.

We met a really delightful man in the tourist office who was courtesy and friendliness itself. He gave us a number of pamphlets and outlined so many things that were on offer in the area. We booked tickets for the wildlife park the next day. That day followed its usual pattern of delicious cake, hearty grub and interesting and fun conversation with the other guests.

The next day, packed lunch in hand, we set off to The Highland Wildlife Park. We had never seen such an array of exotic animals before from Polar Bears to Bactrian Camels and everything in between. The park is a wonderful day out with so much to see and great talks at feeding time. Katy thoroughly enjoyed herself and we had no trouble whiling away an entire day there.

 

reindeer

Always a memorable site – the Cairngorm Reindeer herd

The Reindeer centre

The next day the winds continued to stymie our snowy plans so we headed up to The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. I think this was one of Katy’s favourite activities.

We went out to the little paddock set off to the side of the centre and saw a number of reindeer but the real treat was to come. Everyone followed the staff up in convoy to a car park someways up the mountain. We hopped out and were given a brief talk (it was chilly) about the plan and off we set. We went down a winding trail to a beautiful river, across the wooden bridge and up the other side. This lead us into the foothills of the Cairngorms. Soon we were surrounded by a herd of 200 reindeer all looking for attention and of course the food pellets that they knew we had.

It was a wonder to see these majestic creatures up so close, particularly after the long hard Christmas they had just had. They seemed to be enjoying their well deserved break from their North Pole duties!

Cairngorm reindeer herd

Keep a look out for the Cairngorm reindeer herd roaming the hills

Birthday treats

That evening I was really touched to see that Rebecca had gone to a lot of trouble for Cormac’s birthday. She had prepared his favourite chocolate biscuit cake (with candles) for cake o’clock and put up birthday banners in the dining room.

The next day, still unable to snowboard, we hit Aviemore. We treated ourselves to big steamy cups of hot chocolate and a spot of sledding in the town. We planned to go dog sledding the next day so we relished the idea of a relatively easy day spent at home in front of the fire.

at Fraoch Lodge

Everyone loves an open fire, almost as much entertainment as the TV

Dog sledding

The next day we set off for The Cairngorm Dog Sled Centre. This again was easily one of Katy’s favourite experiences. After a long talk by the owner of the centre who is a real character and very passionate about his dogs we set out on a motorized vehicle that was ‘pulled’ by a team of sled dogs. It was exhilarating and we loved every minute of this activity.

We spotted a huge stag watching us, as we flew past him with the dogs running as though their lives depended upon it. My only advice for anyone planning on partaking in this activity: bring a lot of very warm clothes.

That night, after a feed of Haggis, tatties and neeps, we set out for the local Ceilidh with the rest of the guests from the Lodge We had a really wonderful night of dancing. Katy came with us and managed to ‘Auld Lang Syne’ her way into the New Year but we retired home moments after the clock struck twelve. She was all danced out.

 

Relaxing at the Lodge

On our last day Katy was feeling a little under the weather so she, wee Gregor and I had a duvet day. We spent the day lazing in front of the fire wrapped up in sleeping bags, drinking hot chocolate and eating cake. A perfect ending to a wonderful week in the Cairngorms.

I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I will return to Fraoch Lodge to spend more time in that lovely part of the world. We barely touched the surface with regard to what can be done in the area. We still haven’t snowboarded there so that will need to be experienced. In fact I plan on doing the snow-holing weekend with the expert himself, Mr Bateman and the Winter Skills is also on my wishlist. Can’t wait!

winter Cairngorms

Walkers striding across the Cairngorm plateau

For the full range of walking holidays and skills courses offered by Scot Mountain Holidays please check here.

The thought of snow brings visions of skiing and snowboarding to the forefront of many minds. But for those of us who don’t enjoy the slopes or perhaps want another option, Scotland is the right place to come. There are thankfully still many exciting activities that can be enjoyed in the snow.

guided winter walking in the Highlands of Scotland

Spectacular glistening snow on the slopes of the Cairngorm peaks

Here are Scot Mountain Holidays top four snow options for non-skiers.

Snowshoeing

For those who aren’t familiar with the sport of snowshoeing, it’s a lot of fun and needs little skill to master. Essentially, snowshoeing is strapping tennis racket like objects to your feet and walking/sliding over snow and ice. It’s a fantastic way to explore an area and Scot Mountain Holidays offers an all inclusive guided snowshoe tour for your convenience.

Winter Hiking

Hiking is a fantastic activity most popular in the peak season, but winter hiking is no different. While coming with some additional challenges, the rewards are fantastic and you’ll quickly discover the hiking trails have a magical like quality to them. You’ll also find the hiking traffic is much less; giving you opportunities for fully appreciate where you are.

Snow Hole Expedition

Digging in for a night out on the mountain.

Snow skill course

Scot Mountain Holidays offer a range of snow skill courses for your choosing. With the opportunity to learn about and have first hand experience on ice axes, building ice holes, winter navigation and more, the choices are endless. Not only are these courses a fantastic alternative from the slopes, but they are brilliant life skills to have.

Light hearted fun in the snow

Whilst all of our snow options for non-skiers are fun, exciting activities. It’s always nice to relax and have a little fun in the snow, especially for those travelling with children. So, take an afternoon to build a snowman, or have a snow fight. Make snow angels or bobsled. You’ll appreciate an open fire and a good book so much more once you’re back in the warmth.

Scotland is a beautiful country and one that has unique points of interest for each season. Although summer soars in popularity for visitors’, winter is severely overlooked for its raw beauty, clear winter days and hiking. So for those of you that have any doubts, here are five reasons to hike in winter and join Scot Mountain Holidays on a trip of a lifetime.

New Year adventure

Stunning winter scenery at New Year

1. Amazing views

The peaks of Scotland offer spectacular views all year round. But for those of you willing to bear the brisk wind, winter arguably offers the most rewarding view of all. There is something truly magical about winter, especially if there’s snow. Winter can produce some of the most clear beautiful skies all year round and with the added bonus of snowy peaks the view will be worth the extra layers of clothing.

Guided winter walking in Scotland

A guided expedition in winter

2. Fewer People

It’s no secret that the chilly offseason discourages a lot of people from hiking. But for those of you undeterred you’ll find yourself in a breathtakingly sparse space, with very few people about. This means fewer distractions for you, the chance to reflect and really appreciate where you are.

3. Terrain visuals

Winter offers a visually compelling unique point of view. The lack of leaves, greenery and wildlife will give you the opportunity to fully appreciate the raw rugged beauty of the mountains, the incredible rock formations and the sparse world that the season creates. If you’re lucky enough to get snow you’ll enjoy a separate, but equally compelling visually changed terrain.

White Christmas in Scotland

A White Christmas is more of a reality in the Cairngorms than most other places in the UK.

4. Burn more calories

This one’s for the fitness enthusiast out there. While hiking at any time is great exercise, hiking in colder weather actually burns more calories then hiking in the heat. Another fantastic benefit to winter hiking.

5. New exciting challenges

Winter demands a different style of hiking and naturally comes with some added challenges. While it is slightly more strenuous you’ll be exposed to something you’ve never done before. The challenges of winter hiking will also make your success so much more rewarding.

Navigating in winter

Winter walking in the Cairngorm Mountains, Aviemore, Scotland.

So, to experience something new, to challenge yourself, and enjoy some of the most spectacular terrain and views you’ll ever see. Join Scot Mountain Holidays on a winter hiking holiday and reap the rewards for years to come.

winter walking in Scotland

Setting off on expedition across the snowy Cairngorm plateau

 

 

 

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Walking Ice Axe leashes – to have, or not to have.

Many gear shops will automatically sell you a leash as an essential and permanent accompaniment to your ice axe. Here we look at the pro’s and con’s of having a leash on your walking/general mountaineering axe. We discuss when and where it is appropriate to use one.

 

The fear of losing an Ice axe

There is at least one recorded instance where loosing grip of the axe during a sliding fall resulted in head injuries due to the axe flailing uncontrollably at the end of a leash. Rather than relying on a leash to retain possession of your axe, the emphasis is on instilling the mental capacity of not letting go.  The hand holding the head of the axe can pivot around the head but the grasp should remain the same. It’s also about developing that mental ability of properly securing your axe should you need to put it down.

 

Trip hazard

Except when cutting steps down slope, you should always carry the axe in the up hill hand. On a zig-zag ascent or descent, the axe is repeatedly swapped from one hand to the other to maintain it in the uphill hand. Having to swap the leash from one wrist at every turn is cumbersome and time consuming. Wrapping the leash around the head of the axe isn’t a secure solution either. There is the risk it can start to dangle with resultant hazard of a crampon point catching and causing a trip.

Winter_Skills_-_Cutting_Steps.jpg

Photo caption: cutting steps in the Cairngorms on a winter skills course with Scot Mountain Holidays

Step cutting

This is where a leash is desirable especially if you are cutting into hard snow or ice. Wet gloves, cutting the steps too vigorously, etc can all increase the chance of loosing grasp and this is where a leash comes into its own.

Conclusion

For winter hill walking, a leash should be minimalist, light weight and quickly attached and detached from the head of the axe. The simplest way is to make a loop in the attachment end of the leash. Thread the loop though the hole in the head of the axe. The other end of the leash is then threaded through the loop (Larks footed) and pulled tight. Store the leash in an easily accessible place like a jacket pocket and attached to the head of the axe when required.

 

Useful links:

Have fun in the snow: http://www.wikihow.com/Have-Fun-in-the-Snow

Snow related activities for kids: http://www.parents.com/fun/activities/outdoor/snow-activities-kids/#page=7

Family fun in the snow: http://powertochange.com/family/snow/

Free mountain weather service: Mountain Weather Information Service

Met Office forecast for the hills: Met Office Mountain Forecast

Scottish Avalanche Information service: Scottish Avalanche Information Service

USEFUL BLOGS

How to ice axe arrest: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/skills-how-ice-axe-arrest/

Best practice: how to build a snow hole in Scotland: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/best-practice-building-snow-hole-scotland/

How not to get lost – the art of navigation: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/hiking-how-not-get-lost-art-navigation/

Top 10 winter skills tips (for Scotland): https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/top-10-winter-skills-tips/

How to prepare for a mountain challenge: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/classic-ridges-and-horseshoes-hiking-tips/

Which boots to choose for winter: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/which-boots-choose-winter-walking/

How to choose a walking ice axe: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/how-choose-walking-ice-axe/

How to predict snow: https://scotmountainholidays.com/blog/how-predict-snow-uk/

 

EXPEDITIONS FROM SCOT MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS: https://scotmountainholidays.com/activities/mountain-challenges/

 

SKILLS COURSES FROM SCOT MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS: https://scotmountainholidays.com/activities/mountain-skills-courses/

 

WINTER WALKING HOLIDAYS FROM SCOT MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS: https://scotmountainholidays.com/activities/walking-holidays-uk/

Scotland’s Winter Conditions: choosing a winter sleeping bag to suit

Winter in the Cairngorms

So you’re planning a high overnight camp and you’re wondering how warm your winter sleeping bag should be?

Likely Ambient Temperature

With a number of recent TV documentaries ‘laying it on a bit thick’ about how low the temperature can drop in Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains you might be forgiven for thinking you were heading for somewhere akin to the high Arctic! Indeed the temperature in the Scottish Highlands has been recorded approaching -30 deg C (-27.2 to be precise – the official British record) but this has only been on three occasions in 120 years!

Interestingly, Cairngorm summit (1245m) has only ever managed a record minimum of around half of this at – 16.5 deg C (12th Jan 1987) whilst the residents of nearby Nethybridge (210m) at the foot of the mountain claimed the mercury dropped to -31.3 deg C on 10thJanuary 1982, the same night as one of the -27.2’s was recorded.  Satellite evidence suggests they were right!

The vital bit of missing information on these – 30ish lows are that they’ve all been recorded as a result of temperature inversions. That is, cold air has flowed off the mountains and pooled in the valley bottoms where it’s cooled further whilst the mountain summits have remained appreciably warmer. These record minima are in no way a reflection of the likely temperature you would find on our mountains, possibly not surprising considering all our mountains are never that far from a relatively warm sea.

So what would be the likely temperature at the main snow-hole sites, let’s say, in the Cairngorms at around 1100m? Well, the seasonal minimum for 900m is usually around -8 deg C which could, at a pinch, translate to -10 deg C at 1100m but far more often in winter it’s around minus 5 and above. The point is, on our mountains we don’t experience anything like the temperatures you might get in e.g.Norway.

Which bag to choose?

  1. These days sleeping bags are graded according to the temperature. There is a wide choice of sleeping bags which will keep you warm in the average temperatures in a snow hole/winter expedition with Scot Mountain Holidays. Some of the choice comes down to your personal preference, but there are some general guidelines below:
  2. Down or synthetic?
  3. Generally down/feathers loose a lot of their thermal potential (i.e. they won’t keep you anywhere near as warm as advertised) once they get damp. These days a lot of down is treated with a water-repellent but it may still be advisable to opt for a synthetic bag if you are intending to use your bag for more than one night in damp conditions.
  4. Down is lighter but more expensive.
  5. Be careful when considering which side the bag opens – it makes a difference if you normally sleep on your left or your right!

Be guided by advice of sales staff in the shop who should have some relevant experience. Ask for shop expert if your sales person doesn’t demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the range on sale.

Most importatly – buy quality for a sleeping mat. In winter, it is most important to make sure you are insulated from the snow beneath you as you’ll lose the majority of your bodyheat this way.

One final piece of advice:

It goes without saying of course you need to be checking the weather forecasts before you head out. A tented high camp in winter needs to be carefully judged. Those who have got it wrong have ended up having their tent destroyed and gear being scatted far and wide by hurricane force winds.

Andy Bateman 14/11/14

 

USEFUL LINKS

Mountain Weather Information Service

Met Office Mountain Forecast

Scottish Avalanche Information Service

All content © Copyright Scot Mountain Holidays 2024

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