A few years ago I drove up to Glen Roy near Fort William with ace photographer Jane Barlow to meet Royal Marine turned mountain rescue expert Mick Tighe. Formerly known as “the Spider-Man of Glencoe” due to the amount of time he spent dangling out of helicopters on the end of a rope in order to pluck stranded climbers from inaccessible mountainsides, in later life Tighe turned his attention to his Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection – a remarkable museum of skiing and mountaineering memorabilia he keeps in a barn beside his house.
If they ever wanted to make a sequel to The History of the World in 100 Objects, the BBC could do a lot worse than send a camera crew over to Mick’s place and make “The History of Mountaineering in 100 Bits of Old Junk” – that’s how Tighe self-deprecatingly refers to the stuff he keeps in his barn, although he knows fine that he’s sitting on a treasure trove. Highlights of the collection include a pair of the revolutionary “terrordactyl” ice axes Scottish climber Hamish MacInnes developed in the 1970s, an altimeter used by Harold Raeburn, who took part in the ill-fated 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition to Mount Everest, and even a Box Brownie and a bobble hat that used to belong to the late, great Tom Weir.
If that makes it sound as if Tighe has retired from hill-going, though, don’t worry – he hasn’t. He may be approaching the big 7-0, but he’s still a man with his heart very much in the mountains and his latest project is characteristically ambitious-verging-on-bloody-minded: to ski to as many of Scotland’s 282 Munros as he can.
It’s an intriguing prospect. He should have little trouble getting to the top of Cairn Gorm, Glas Maol or Aonach Mor – he could even take a ski lift most of the way if he wanted to. But what about the more westerly tops that rarely see snow thanks to their proximity to the sea? How many days a year is it possible to ski on, say, Ben More on Mull? Or, for that matter, the Cuillin on Skye? Tighe says he’s now past the 120 mark and earlier this week he ticked off a couple more on what he describes as a “fabulous trip across the Moine Mhor above Glen Feshie to Braeriach and Cairn Toul.”
Anyone intrigued to find out more about Tighe’s unusual challenge should head to the Central Hall in Edinburgh on Saturday night, where he will be giving a talk about his Munro-skiing adventure as part of the 2019 Winter Opener – a weekend of talks and workshops hosted by British Backcountry, British Freeride and Freeze Pro Shop. Tighe will also be bringing along a few nuggets from the Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection, for the benefit of those with an interest in mountaineering history.
Also on the bill for Saturday night’s event are Sofiya Cox, who will be reflecting on lessons learned during a month-long ski touring expedition above the Arctic Circle in Sweden and Norway; Scottish gully skier extraordinaire Scott Muir, who will be discussing some of the best steep skiing locations he’s found so far; and base jumper Tim Howell, who has been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in Scotland with new jumps on Skye and Ben Nevis and the first known Scottish ski base jump.
This will be the fourth edition of the Winter Opener, and event organiser and British Backcountry guide Blair Aitken reckons the thing that makes it special is its focus on local people.
“I think where our event differs from most outdoor events and film nights is that we focus very much on local talent and people of interest within our growing community,” he says. “No-one is a professional speaker and most of the films are amateur but they’re very well made and they tell a story the audience can relate to. I think this is appealing to many people who take part in the sport and want to hear and see things that are aspirational but also attainable.”
Speaking of making the aspirational attainable, in addition to the main event at Central Hall, the Winter Opener also offers a series of workshops aimed at backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Taking place in the Pentland Hills on Saturday and Sunday, these sessions aim to teach navigation techniques, ropework and avalanche rescue.
It may only be November, but with snow already lying on many of Scotland’s mountains, the omens are good for the winter of 2019/20; whether you’re a seasoned ski tourer seeking inspiration or a beginner looking for advice, chances are the Winter Opener can give you what you need.
For more on this year’s Winter Opener, see www.british-backcountry.co.uk/events/winter-opener-edinburgh