If you are heading into snowy hills, particularly in Scotland, it’s vital to understand avalanche safety. Here is Kevin Rutherford’s guide to the stages you should go through in planning a trip into terrain that might be avalanche-prone:

  1. Make sure you understand how to interpret the forecast on the Scottish Avalanche Information Service(SAIS) website, including the ‘avalanche wind rose’, the colour coding and, just as importantly, the text
  2. Check that you can identify the key slope aspects and snow types on the hill that are referred to in the text
  3. Look at the Scottish Avalanche Information Service blog pages for recent photographs and information on the area you’re hoping to visit
  4. Highlight the possible avalanche hotspot areas on your route
  5. Make sure you can navigate around the hotspot safely if necessary
  6. Check through the weather forecasts for the past five days. How much snow has been falling? What direction has it been blown in?
  7. Consider whether there is now enough wind, at 15mph or more, to redistribute the fresh snow. Where might it be redistributed to?
  8. Does your route ascend or descend any slopes of 25º or more and what direction do they face? Does this mirror the areas of risk on the avalanche wind rose?
  9. Decide whether it would be wise to change your route.

Launched last year, the Be Avalanche Aware! leaflet has very good information for anyone planning to walk in the winter. It is available printed on waterproof paper or can be downloaded from the Scottish Avalanche Information Service website at beaware.sais.gov.uk.


Main image by Carey Davies