Winter ML Review – The Final Outcome

Buachaille Etive Beag approach to Stob Dubh

Background

The Winter ML review is complete and the outcomes are public. Just in time for this coming season.

All Mountain Training awards are reviewed periodically (around every four years) to ensure that they are still fit for purpose and are addressing the current needs of the user groups. Due to a variety of reasons – change of name, change of contact details, change of methods of operating, use of digital technology, review of Summer Walking Awards – Mountain Training Scotland (MTS) reviewed the Winter Mountain Leader Award (ML(W)), it’s Syllabus and Guidance notes in 2012 and early 2013 rather than the planned date in 2014.

MTS invited feedback, comments and alterations to any aspect of the Winter ML Award from interested parties. This was done as a blank paper exercise i.e. there was no steer or suggestions about which aspects of the award MTS were seeking feedback on.

To that end comments and feedback were received from a variety of sources including
  • Eighteen individuals who currently hold the Winter ML or higher award, some of whom are members of Mountain Training Association (MTA) including candidates who have recently completed their Winter ML training.
  • Providers, Course Directors, trainers and assessors involved in providing Winter ML courses.
  • Stakeholder organisations including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Adventure Activities Licensing Service, Mountain Rescue of England and Wales (MREW) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS).


On the back of this consultation George McEwan, the MTS Executive Officer, produced a report titled “Mountain Training Scotland Winter ML Review 2013”. This was then sent directly to all those who had responded to the initial review and was also made public via on-line forums, MT website etc. Final comments were sought with regard to this document. All the feedback received in response to the report was very positive with regard to the process and all respondents were satisfied with the contents of the report. On the 30th May 2013 the Board of MTS considered and discussed the above report. After a an involved discussion the MTS Board agreed Proposal 1 Amended Winter ML Prospectus, Syllabus and Guidance Notes and the changes contained in the three documents that make up the Winter ML handbook.

At the recent MTUK Board meeting on the 22nd June 2013, held at Tollymore this decision was ratified by all the home nation boards. A summary of these agreed key changes and the rationale behind the changes is as follows:

Teaching Winter Skills

There was discussion focussed around the context and skill set for Winter ML holders teaching winter skills prompted by some questions raised by several board members. This led into a discussion and the Board considering changes. To put this into context George McEwan, the Executive Officer of MTS stated that of all the respondents only five had explicitly stated that Winter MLs should be able to do more than provide ‘basic tuition’. The Board discussed creating a trained and assessed bolt on winter skills coaching module. Concern was expressed concern that such a move would create an ‘enhanced’ Winter ML or a ‘Winter Skills Instructor’ award by default. It would potentially lead to confusion amongst both the public and potential employers. There was general agreement that it would mean that ‘basic’ Winter ML award holders would very much be pigeonholed into operating strictly within the scope of their existing award.

Outcome: On this basis the Board took the decision not to change the current scope of the award with regard to winter skills coaching but that the syllabus more clearly defined what was meant by basic tuition.

Leading Overnight Snowhole Expeditions

Next proposal the Board discussed was leading snowholing based overnight expeditions. George McEwan stated that only two respondents had explicitly asked for Winter ML holders to be able to lead overnight snowhole expeditions, whilst one had explicitly stated they should not (all were Winter ML holders). George McEwan Mc added that one MTS Winter Mountain Leader Provider had expressly asked all his candidates (During the season 2012/2013 he trained and assessed sixty nine Winter ML candidates) about this issue and there was little desire expressed on their part to be able to lead groups snowholing. In short it appeared there was very little demand for this aspect of the Winter ML Award scope to be changed.

George McEwan pointed out that any change to the award to allow ML(W) holders to lead snowhole expeditions would require, at the minimum, a change in the experience requirements at assessment i.e. addition of nights leading snowholes. The Board agreed that this would serve as a barrier to the vast majority of candidates who have no interest in leading snowhole based expeditions. The Board also expressed concern that such a change may lead to confusion with current holders of the ‘old’ no snowhole award and those with the ‘new’ snowhole award. Also many candidates would not have the desire to lead snowhole expeditions so where would this change leave them?

The Board also considered creating a trained and assessed bolt on snowhole expedition module. Given the small numbers asking for this it was felt that creating such a bolt on would be both expensive and time consuming. It was stated that it appeared unlikely there would be a great enough demand from candidates to make such a module viable to provide practically (enough candidates to attend a module) and financially.

George McEwan stated that there is currently an option under ‘Further Experience’ for award holders to be ‘signed off’ by a suitably experienced technical advisor within site specific schemes/further training to lead snowholes. He also mentioned that MTA are planning on running a series of winter based CPD events this coming winter 2014. One of these events could cover further training in snowholing as CPD.

Outcome: The Board took the decision not to change in the award with reference to Winter MLs leading snowhole expeditions. However the syllabus and guidance notes were re-written to clarify this aspect of the syllabus.

Amended Winter ML Prospectus, Syllabus and Guidance Notes

The MTS board approved these and a summary of the changes contained therein is given in Appendix 1. The Board also approved that the new Winter Mountain leader Handbook would be available only in PDF. The Executive Officer was tasked to produce this.

What next?

As these changes were to be enacted for this forthcoming season this meant a large amount of work had to be completed in a very short space of time. The bulk of the work being the redrafting the text for the Winter ML handbook and it's design/production.

The New Winter ML handbook

The next stage was to begin the involved work to implement these changes. In the past the Winter ML handbook was available primarily as a hard copy (although a PDF version as available on-line). However, print runs for hard copies of the handbooks are very expensive. To have enough produced and to keep the ‘per unit’ cost down means having thousands of copies printed. These effectively ties the review process into a four-year period as this is generally when the paper copies of the handbook start to run out. As you can appreciate tweak and updates to any aspect of the award or guidance contained therein is not an easy process and has to wait until the next print run. This means that the development of the award becomes a slow process with large time gaps between reviews. It was also painfully clear that due to the handbook being very complicated in its layout, ‘wordy’ and short on pictures candidates were not often that keen on reading it! To break this cycle the decision was taken to make the new handbook for the Winter ML award available in electronic form only i.e. as a PDF. This has the advantage of being far more cost effective in the long run whilst allowing frequent updates at minimum cost. There was also the desire to create a handbook that was more than just a source of words about the scheme, but something that could be more interactive with links to information sources, video etc. Also it could potentially be readable anywhere using a suitable electronic device or simply printed out and read as a book.

This was a key part of the design brief - to make the publication more engaging and containing information that candidates would want to read and find useful. Using PDF allows the handbook to become more visual with lot’s of images and allows it to become more interactive with links to video, websites etc. This new version of the handbook is version 1. Version 2 (planned to be available next season) will have more in the way of video clips illustrating key components of the syllabus (these take time and money to produce).

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Digital On-line Logbook

Over the past year Mountain Training has been developing a new on-line digital logbook facility associated with the Candidate Management System (CMS) contained on the Mountain Training website. This new logbook facility is called DLog.

One issue facing new registrants is the rather clunky process which first involves registering on-line, then filling in a form and submitting this to Mountain training Scotland for final approval. Being able to create an on-line logbook enables candidates to register, simultaneously receive information about how to submit their required experience and, if they have already started using DLog submit their logged winter experience without having to rewrite their logbook. Potentially this could be completed in few minutes – although all applications will still be read and vetted by Mountain Training Scotland technical staff.

Summary

During the review of the Winter Mountain Leader Award, Mountain Training Scotland invited feedback, comments and suggested alterations to any aspect of the Winter ML Award from interested parties. Responses were received from Winter ML or higher award holders, Providers, Course Directors, trainers and assessors involved in providing Winter ML courses and stakeholder organisations including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Adventure Activities Licensing Service, Mountain Rescue of England and Wales (MREW) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS). As a result the Mountain Training Scotland Board (MTS) considered a series of proposals relating to amendments or changes to the Winter Mountain leader scheme.

The Mountain Training Scotland Board did not wish to create an ‘enhanced’ Winter ML or a ‘Winter Skills Instructor’ award by default, believing this would potentially lead to confusion amongst both the public and potential employers. When it came to Winter Mountain leader award holders leading planned snowhole trips the Board agreed that any change to the award to allow ML(W) holders to lead snowhole expeditions would require, at the minimum, a change in the experience requirements at assessment i.e. addition of nights leading snowholes. The Board agreed that this would serve as a barrier to the vast majority of candidates who have no interest (based on feedback submitted during the review) in leading snowhole based expeditions. A proposal to create a trained and assessed bolt on snowhole expedition module was considered by the Board. Given the small numbers asking for this during the review it was felt that creating such a bolt on would be both expensive and time consuming. It was stated that it appeared unlikely there would be a great enough demand from candidates to make such a module viable to provide practically (enough candidates to attend a module) and financially.

All of the Winter Mountain leader Syllabus, Guidance notes and Appendices were updated, re-written and restructured to ensure they were clearer and more accessible to candidates. These were then inserted into a newly designed handbook, which being a PDF and primarily designed for viewing on a suitable electronic device, means it is visual and interactive. With the planned future addition of short technical videos (Top tips and how to) this will make the handbook more engaging and useful from the candidate’s perspective.  

Want to register for the Winter Mountain Leader Award?

Appendix 1

Proposal 1 Amended Winter ML Prospectus, Syllabus and Guidance Notes. This is a re-draft of the existing handbook and makes no change to the current scope of the award although it does seek to clarify and offer clearer guidance with key sections of the syllabus.

There are three documents that make up this handbook:

  • Winter ML Prospectus and Syllabus 2013_DRAFTv1
  • Winter ML Guidance 2013_DRAFT v1
  • Winter ML Appendices 2013_DRAFT v1


These outline the proposed changes and amendments to the existing handbook.

A summary of these proposed changes and amendments is included here.

Prospectus

Section 6 Change specific mention of ‘climbs’ to ‘ground’. This is to better represent the fact that the ML(W) is a walking award and resolve some confusion often associated with this aspect of the award i.e. why do leaders have to be able to climb for a walking award.

Section 8 Added proviso about 75% of the minimum requirements must be UK based (this was previously only in Guidance notes).

Section 10 Complete re-draft of Equality statement based on current MTS Policy.

Section 11 New Appeals/Complaints procedure inserted (taken from MTS Provider Quality Manual)

Section 12 Complete re-write of the ‘Further Experience’ section. The key intent of this is to provide options for award holders to operate in a structured and supported way at the edges or just beyond the scope of the award e.g. lead overnight snowhole expeditions, formally teach all aspects of winter skills etc. This statement is currently being worked on as part of the Walking Awards Review so should be seen as a draft.

Syllabus

Syllabus headings changed and re-ordered. Creation of new heading ‘Leadership and Journey Skills’ Sections 1 – 5 Minor changes/amendments to text. Changes as below:

Syllabus Headings 1 Leadership and Journey Skills 2 Navigation 3 Snow and Avalanches 4 Snowcraft 5 Security on Steep Ground 6 Snowholes and Emergency Shelter 7 Cold Weather Injuries 8 Winter Weather

Section 1 moved 1.8 from ‘Weather’ to ‘Leadership and Journey Skills’

Section 2 added two new syllabus competencies addressing use of GPS type devices.

Section 3 complete re-write of ‘Snow and Avalanches’ with direct in-put from SAIS/SAFOS.

Section 4 changed name from ‘Axe and Crampon Skills’ to ‘Snowcraft’ Removed reference to ‘group’ in 4.4 Added new section and competencies about basic tuition to novices. Changed neve to ‘hard snow’

Section 5 added two new specific competencies (5.1 and 5.2) relating to creating secure steps for novices. This has been trained and assessed but never explicitly mentioned. Added new competencies relating to being able to use the rope to safeguard short climbing descents/ascents Clarified holding falls competence.

Section 6 Change of wording to place shelters and snowholes firmly as emergency techniques. Amended wording in 6.3 to ‘emergency overnight refuge’

Section 8 Inclusion of the words ‘mountaineering routes’. Section 12 Complete re-write of the ‘Further Experience’ section. The key intent of this is to provide options for award holders to operate in a structured and supported way at the edges or just beyond the scope of the award e.g. lead overnight snowhole expeditions etc.

Appendices

Re-draft to reflect above changes. Added new Appendix 5 on ‘Further Experience’