Keep smiling & be safe in our winter wonderland

For some members of our community, like the mountain rescue teams, winter means the busiest time of year – so how can you make the most of the wintry weather and ensure you keep safe?

We asked a couple of local heroes for their advice!

A member of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team

Julian Fennema is the training officer for Braemar Mountain Rescue Team. He implores hill walkers never to underestimate the might of the Cairngorms mountain range, particularly in winter, when navigation becomes much harder and navigational issues account for about 25% of the team’s call outs.

“So many of the things you use to keep yourself on track disappear in the winter, like burn lines, crags, etc. They’re just not there anymore. You have to rely on your navigational skills. Visitors can underestimate the Cairngorms, which has a very different weather system and a slightly more brutal environment than the likes of the Lakes or the South Downs.”

Julian Fennema, training officer, Braemar Mountain Rescue

Experts like Julian also urge anyone venturing out in the winter to not rely solely on your mobile phone for navigation, as many people tend to do. Not to mention the fact that many parts of the Cairngorms don’t actually have reception, cold temperatures tend to adversely affect mobile phones.

At the end of the day, he says, the best tools for navigation are the old fashioned map and compass!

If you are in any doubt at all of your winter skills, then there are plenty of courses and guides available in the area – search for them on Mountaineering Scotland also runs winter mountain skills talks.

A winter skills course being delivered by Glenmore Lodge; photo credit Ed Smith

Alistair Dargie is the area manager for Highlands South of the Ambulance Service. He says the main reason for callouts in winter are slips, trips and falls and suggests one of the best investments people can make is buying grips for their shoes, which work wonders in icy conditions.

“This area truly is a wonderland in winter, there’s so much good walking, cross country skiing and biking, so come and enjoy it, just make sure you dress appropriately, in warm, waterproof clothing, and heed local weather warnings!”

Alistair Dargie, area manager for Highlands South, the Ambulance Service

If there’s an ‘amber’ warning, he advises people don’t venture out, especially those that don’t know the area. And if it’s a ‘red’ warning, you need to remain inside. Cosy up by the fire and enjoy the wild weather whipping around you outside!

Top winter Tips

A day in the life of snow plough driver Tom Moody, Cairngorm Mountain

Tom Moody, snow plough driver, Cairngorm Mountain

I get up at around 4.30am and I’m out on the mountain, in my piste grooming machine, by about 6am. I don’t mind being up early, you just get used to it and I’ve been doing this job for 40 years! My job is to make sure that the tracks under the ski lifts are smooth with no snow drifts, so it’s safe. Often the visibility is not good so you have to have your wits about you and know the lie of the land. I’ll be out there until about 10am doing the tracks and flattening out the pistes before they’re safe enough to open. I like that every day is different and I’ve got the mountain to myself. It’s just me, my machine and the radio getting on with moving the snow.

*We are very grateful for all our community led volunteer services that keep us safe, particularly in winter. You can donate to both Braemar Mountain Rescue Team and Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team via their websites.

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