Winter Mountain Leader courses cancelled

An update from Mountain Training Scotland

For those involved in the Winter Mountain Leader scheme – candidates, providers and their staff, this winter season 2017 has been an endlessly challenging one, and not in a good way! This season to date has been characterised by a rather diminished and often patchy snowpack, with frequent thaw/freeze cycles associated with dramatic temperature fluctuations. This consistent pattern has left the mountains with often poor snow cover; the ground at all elevations is not as frozen as it should be (in many areas not frozen at all). In effect this pattern, rather than supporting the building of late season winter conditions has slowly, and gradually degraded them. It’s been a relatively long time since we have faced such a “green” winter – 97/98 – with some “old hands” minding that winter oh too well…

This unpredictable and poor winter has been challenging for candidates seeking to undertake their Winter Mountain Leader training or assessment as planned days on the hills have been frustrated by poor or often non-existent conditions on the hill. This has had a knock on effect for those seeking to gain more days to enable them to register on the scheme, as registration approvals are down so therefore are training course places delivered. For those with an assessment planned it’s been tough getting out into the hills to practice and develop experience. Again this has affected Winter Mountain Leader assessments as assessment places delivered are also noted to be down.

For those working on the hill delivering Mountain Training Scotland Winter Mountain Leader courses it has meant an endless amount of poring over all sorts of weather forecasts and late night ponderings regarding choosing appropriate venues. Winter Mountain Leader providers and their staff have been using both long range computer modelling of weather (to check out the following week’s weather) and the more accurate short term forecasts, all in an effort to ensure that the Winter Mountain Leader course being run – whether it be training or assessment – remains a viable and authentic experience that adequately prepares/tests candidates for operating as Winter Mountain leaders in the harshest environments in the UK – the high winter mountains.

The Cairngorms cGlenmore Lodge

The key principle we follow when deciding whether or not we would run a Winter Mountain Leader course is, “you start it - you finish it”. What this means is when deciding to run a course we have to have full confidence that given the conditions and forecasted weather we can complete the course. This means no starting a course to “see what happens” with the risk of abandoning it part way through. Such a “see what happens” approach is not fair on candidates (and leaves them in a very difficult to reconcile place the following season). This means providers starting a Winter Mountain Leader course knowing full well that they will complete it, is better for our candidates as they can go into their course having the confidence that they will have a viable and authentic experience – be it training or assessment.

At the very start of this season, we realised very quickly we were facing a very unusual and challenging situation regarding conditions. To manage these unusual conditions and to facilitate this process whilst coordinating the efforts of all Mountain Training Scotland’s Winter Mountain Leader providers, course directors and staff, Mountain Training Scotland initiated an email chain (which contained every provider, course director and many of the staff who work Winter Mountain Leader courses) to share our views, opinions, venues we have used, coordinate venues we were planning to use or wonder if we could use. This was to ensure that given limited options (often during the expedition phase of a course), we did not all walk into the same space at the same time trying to do the same things, and, if we had to make decisions regarding cancelling courses we could ensure that every provider operating in Scotland had exhausted all possible options including travelling to other more viable venues.

This email chain has worked very well at coordinating efforts in an easy to share way. In addition, behind the scenes, there have been numerous and regular phone calls between course directors and Mountain Training Scotland to reassure and ensure we are continuing to uphold the integrity of the Winter Mountain Leader scheme. This coordination has been essential to enable us, despite the often sparse conditions, to provide viable authentic courses that prepare and test Winter Mountain Leader candidates for the rigours of leading groups in the mountains in winter conditions. And so far, to date, we have succeeded.

Astronomical spring in the Northern Hemisphere began on Monday, March 20. This keystone event in the winter calendar coincided with a weather forecast for next week (we’d first spotted this being a possible issue ten days ago as some weather models were indicating this warm period) indicating warmer than normal temperatures. Given the current poor state of the prevailing winter conditions, and this rather disheartening weather forecast, our confidence, as a seasoned group of Winter Mountain Leader providers, was low that we would be able to run viable and authentic Winter Mountain leader training and assessment courses next week.

In the past 48 hours, after a great deal of discussion amongst the providers and course directors involved in these courses; including checking and double checking the weather forecasts, and taking notice of the current conditions on the hill; the tough decision was taken that we could not, in all conscience, start these courses knowing full well we could neither deliver viable and authentic training/assessments, nor could we guarantee that by next week anything approaching winter conditions, as such, would still exist. In effect we could not guarantee a viable and authentic Winter Mountain Leader experience, nor could we guarantee we could complete the week. Therefore the Winter Mountain Leader training and assessment courses programed for next week have been cancelled. Providers have been contacting all those who have been booked onto their courses directly to inform them of this tough decision. NOTE: If you have questions or queries please contact the provider you have booked your training/assessment with directly.

In effect, as there are no other Winter Mountain Leader courses programmed for this season, and given the current dire conditions, there is little likelihood of any useful winter to run such courses. This brings Winter Mountain Leader training and assessment courses to a somewhat premature end to for 2017. For those considering reassessments, we have agreed that individual providers can be more opportunistic in programming these – if conditions on the day are appropriate to the syllabus sections to be reassessed.

Looking ahead to next season Winter Mountain Leader providers are aware that there will be an increased demand for course places and they are already starting to plan accordingly. So for all you candidates who unfortunately will now be unable to complete your Winter Mountain Leader training, or undertake your assessment this season, there will be increased provision on courses next year to deal with those from this season plus manage the demand for the next cadre of candidates coming through in 2017. Now if anyone knows any good tricks to ensure next winter is more consistent weather-wise please get in touch! Mountain Training Scotland will prepare and release a report on this season’s Winter Mountain leader activities later in April.

For now, on behalf of all our providers, course directors and staff Mountain Training Scotland would like to thank all our candidates for their continued forbearance. In addition Mountain Training Scotland would like to take this opportunity to thank all our providers, course directors and staff for their cooperation, support and outstanding professionalism in ensuring that the Winter Mountain Leader courses they have delivered were both first class and authentic – no mean feat considering the very challenging nature of the conditions they have operated in this season. It is entirely down to their efforts, and the superb support and enthusiasm of our candidates that the integrity of the Winter Mountain Leader scheme has been both protected and enhanced.