Sunday 17 December 2017

Scottish Avalanche Information Service begins

Avalanche debris in the Drumochter hills

This weekend the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) began daily reports for the 2017/18 winter season. Covering six areas - Lochaber, Glencoe, Northern Cairngorms, Southern Cairngorms, Creag Meagaidh, and Torridon - these reports give detailed avalanche warnings and snow information. There are also blogs for each area that give more informal information about conditions on the ground.

An avalanche in the Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms

I've never been involved in an avalanche in Scotland though I have seen plenty of avalanche debris and have altered my plans to take account of avalanche danger. Many years ago I triggered an avalanche when leading a ski tour in Arctic Norway. I still remember seeing a crack spread across the slope from under my skis and the snow starting to slide. Luckily I was able to move uphill - rapidly! - and stay above the avalanche. This occurred during a storm and visibility was minimal. We were unable to find a safe way down to the hut in the valley below and ended up building snow shelters and squeezing into the emergency tents we were carrying. That night the skies cleared and the temperature fell to -25C. Able to see a safe icy way down we were in the hut for breakfast.

Many avalanches occur in the Highlands every year. Most don't involve people but some do and they can be fatal or result in serious injuries. Checking the avalanche forecast before heading out and planning accordingly is always sensible . Noting conditions while out is necessary too. Snow and weather can change rapidly. SAIS has good advice on this here.

As well as the avalanche forecast I also always check the weather forecast - two weather forecasts in fact.  The Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) and the Met Office Mountain Weather Forecast.

Avalanches are not the only hazard in snowy hills of course. Cornices need watching out for - don't go too near the edge - and good navigation skills in poor visibility are essential. 

Don't go too near the edge! On Sgor Gaoith.

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