Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Teaching Winter Skills Workshop

They say every day is a school day, but last weekend it was definitely back to school for me as I was on a Teaching Winter Skills workshop in Fort William.   The training process that mountain leaders go through is structured to ensure that skills and experience are steadily built up before a leader becomes qualified.  As a Summer Mountain Leader, I have attained a level of competence required to lead in the uk mountains in summer.  However, although I absolutely love being out in the winter hills, preparing for my winter ML assessment is not a walk in the park,  as the standard required is understandably high. The Mountain Leader Training Association offers CPD courses for aspirant Winter MLs, to help us hone and perfect these techniques, with a view to assessment, or for qualified leaders to keep their skills current. This does not replace the initial training programme that we must all undergo- as these courses are entirely optional. 

Obviously the winter environment is very different form the summer one.  For novice clients, there will be a ruck of new skills to learn, and teaching this in a fun and non-threatening way is part of the skills of a good leader. On day 1 of the course we headed up on to Aonach Mor with instructor Tim Blakemore of Northern Mountain Sport to look at ways that we can safely and effectively pass on skills of movement, step cutting and sliding.  
That evening, we had a chat in the classroom about avalanche avoidance- essential! Tim told us about how new research is showing that not only is it important to understand the causes of avalanches, but that we should also be aware of how poor decision making and heuristic traps lead novices and trained experts alike in to avalanche zones.
On the second day, we were treated to a fantastic mountain journey on Ben Nevis.  This was the first time that I have begun the normally tedious approach to the Ben from the locked forestry car park- the advantages of being with a guide! Within no time we were sat in the CIC hut having a cup of tea, before heading up in to Coire na Ciste. After a quick look at snow conditions, we climbed Number Three gully. Most of us took the easy exit left, but we took advantage of the opportunity to build snow anchors and bring up some folk via a much steeper corniced exit on the right. 

After this, a quick bit of navigation in the mist (above) brought us to the top of Number Four Gully. Here we built more anchors, and lowered/abseiled in to the top of the gully. 

The top was pretty steep, but in these good snow conditions, it was possible to walk down unroped back to Coire na Ciste where a speedy bumslide brought us back to our morning's tracks. 
Thanks Wally, for taking these brilliant photos, and big thanks to Tim and the other guys on the course for a great and informative weekend.


John Chivall said...

Thanks for the link to the McCammon paper on heuristic traps in avalanche decision making. Interesting reading.

Lucy Wallace said...

Hi John!
Heuristic traps + totally fascinating and also totally scary as it seems none of us are immune.
Hope things going well for you. Maybe see you on Arran some time!?