Avalanche Awareness - Route Planning and Decsion Making

Last month I attended the Mountain Training Association (MTA) CPD day hosted by Andy Townsend IFMGA Guide based in the Northen Cairngorms and a Director of Infinity Mountain Guides. The day was a mix of practical and static sessions looking at Avalanche awareness, route planning and decision making in the mountains under winter conditions. Avalanche awareness Ian Herd 1

So who was the course aimed at?

The course was aimed at Summer Mountain Leaders who are looking to complete their Winter Mountain Leader Training or Assessment and want to expand their basic Avalanche Awareness Knowledge. The course was also aimed at MTA members who already hold the Winter Mountain Leader Award and want to refresh their knowledge and find out about current state of play and thinking.

After introductions at the Mountain Café in Aviemore, the plan was to spend the whole day on the mountain from the Cairngorm Ski Area covering the subject matter whilst on the move. Upon leaving the Ski Area we headed for the avalanche prone area of Twin Burns beside Coire an Lochain. During the day we looked at and discussed the following;

  • Using the SAFOS Be Avalanche Aware Framework
  • Applying the Weather, Terrain and Snowpack model
  • On the hill Observations
  • Managing Human factors
  • Safe Travel Techniques in Avalanche Terrain
Avalanche awareness Ian Herd 2 As well as the above, we looked at the options and safety procedures to be used if members of a party are caught in an Avalanche. I’ve been on a number of Avalanche courses over the years all of which have been valuable to me in a variety of ways.

So what did I come away with from this course?

Well, lots and lots of food for thought, current thinking has certainly changed since my last avalanche course and lots of probing with an avalanche probe as opposed to digging hasty pits all the time seems to be more appropriate nowadays. We talked lots about the Human Factors and the thing that really stuck in my mind was that if it didn’t feel right then chances are it’s not going to be right, gets you thinking on your feet.

Would I recommend this course to other MTA members?

Most certainly, Avalanche Awareness is a complex subject and needs regular training to keep your skills and knowledge current. I’d like to thank MTA and in particular Andy Townsend for an informative and interesting day. Andy’s knowledge is vast and I really enjoyed the static sessions, where you could ask loads of questions, I would also like to thank the other MTA members for a great day.

Ian Herd
A qualified Summer and Winter Mountain Leader and founder of Aurora Mountaineering based in the Cairngorms National Park.