Only strong skiers need apply
SOONER or later the winter sport expert finds themselves longing to get away from the confines of the ski areas. Everywhere in Scotland you get views of hundreds more mountains, all with their unique snow conditions and remarkable scenery.
Indeed, Scottish skiing began on Ben Lawyers near Killin in the 1930s, a mountain which is rarely skied nowadays.
So if you find yourself looking yearningly at those far-from-the-madding-crowds peaks, the security of the pistes and even the comfort of mountain restaurants, then that glorious sport - ski mountaineering - may be the one for you.
It is an esoteric activity, practised by enthusiasts, and not something to be undertaken lightly. In effect, rather than using chairlifts, you strap skins to your skis - which allows you to walk uphill, feeling as rugged as Davy Crocket. It’s simple, once you have the knack and the fitness, but Scottish mountains still have to be treated with great respect and people should certainly not just head off unprepared. But there are ways to get involved in this superb sport, assuming you are a strong skier.
Various mountain centres and guides organise public courses, or support for groups. Providing your ski skills are there, then the other mountain skills - for example, navigation and awareness of avalanche threat - are something an experienced mountain guide can supply.
In practice, teams of between three to seven people work well, allowing for support and safety of members of the group. Solo ski mountaineering is a risky venture and not recommended. There isn’t much you can do on your own if you are hit by an avalanche.
Ski mountaineering requires specialist equipment. It may be a good plan to book a trial course somewhere, like the national training centre at Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore (01479 861256), which runs courses that supply all the necessary equipment. This allows you to see if the sport is for you, and also to understand the equipment before you buy.
These courses also introduce the use of skis, and teach navigation and avalanche awareness. They can even teach crevice and glacial rescue techniques for those going to the Alps, or maybe the Arctic. If you are looking to join groups in Scotland or in the Alps then London-based Eagle Ski Club is the place to find other interested ski mountaineers.
Now snowboarders can also go into the wilds touring and they don’t have to hop. They either use snowshoes to walk in - which is as easy as walking - or specialised snowboards that split so skins can be used for going uphill. This year, for the first time Glenmore Lodge is organising a cross-country snowboarding course.
Ian Sherrington, of Glenmore Lodge, said: "As a sport, ski mountaineering has it all. Winter can convert rather dull and boggy hills into a magical landscape of snow and wind carvings. You can cover big areas in a day and get fantastic off-piste skiing. But it also gives the satisfaction of a successful day in the mountains, which is the culmination of many skills. Finding good snow, avoiding avalanche, and the camaraderie of the group. Somehow your lunch always tastes fantastic when you are eating it on top of a remote mountain top."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
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