Ski Touring Training and Cairngorms Off Piste


Wednesday was spent delivering a  spot of ski touring training for staff at The Ski School, Cairngorm – we had loads of coaching, sun and big turns 🙂 Easily one of my most memorable days this winter! Interested in booking some ski touring yourself? Check out my ski and winter skills courses for current availability.

Transceivers on the White Lady

After the inevitable bit of tech-related faff, we got up to the White Lady as the sun was just starting to soften the snow surface. I had chosen this location for ski touring training today partly because of it’s angle. At 20 degrees ish, it offered a reasonable learning environment, approaching the classic 30 – 45 degree range on which many avalanches occur.  Additionally,  this run had little traffic and a fast poma nearby.  All this made it a good place to get our heads round avalanche transceiver search and rescue, and we spent the next hour and a half or so getting runs in, but practising transceiver searches on the way. We used a buried transceiver each time and got to see an Ortovox F1, Ortovox Patroller and BCA Tracker DTS do their stuff.

ortovox f1 transceiver during ski touring training

Ski touring training : Logie putting an Ortovox F1 transceiver through its’ paces.

Quite a good comparison too: an old but reliable analogue beacon, one of the first analogue/digital hybrids and one of the most popular digitals on the market (kindly lent to us by Mountain Spirit, Aviemore). We extended the task further by adding probe search and ‘strategic digging’ to the mix – essential skills if any ski touring training is to be realistic.

avalanche probingLogie and Eoghann said they found it really helpful, using probes on ‘real’ buried soft objects (in this case a group shelter containing the transceiver). After a bit more chilling in the sun and some nosh, we filled in the dug holes and headed for Cairngorm summit.

Skins and crampons on Cairngorm summit

We made good progress under cloudless blue skies and the lightest northeasterly breeze. On the way we discussed the limits of climbing skins and explored various techniques to deal with harder steep slopes and rocky and icy sections. Although not strictly necessary, we experimented with ski crampons and tried a kick turn or two (without stacking :)).

skinning up cairngorm

More sunbathing, drink and nosh followed at the top (essential aspects of any ski touring training course). After chatting to a few other tourers and mountaineers, we discussed our options. These amounted to a cruisy ski down and epic walk up, or a cruisy walk down, followed by an epic ski down. Guess which one we went for…

Views out over the Cairngorm plateau were immense. There was really good cover out to Ben Macdui and Braeriach and Cairn Toul was still looking very white. The mild SW winds had scoured some areas a fair bit, but good deposits were still present on SE to NE aspects.

Making Tracks Down

Walking down boulder strewn Cairngom slopes is never much fun in ski boots, but the setting made up for it. Pretty soon we hit the saddle by 1141, revised a bit of pace counting for future times when visibility would be pretty much non existant and headed for Coire an t-Sneachda (‘Corrie of the Snows’).

No kidding. 150 metres drop comprising steep, soft spring snow, no cornice and no not too many rocks. We dropped in one at a time, thankfully giving some mountaineers and bucket seat holes a wide berth and arrived at the corrie floor ready for another go (woulda been rude not to). Another aspect of this ski touring training was to encourage good decision making in variable terrain. This slope comes up at 30 degrees – so, the beginning of the 30-45 degree high risk ‘window’. Furthermore, descending some of todays’ slopes earlier in the season might require ice axe and crampons ( for example, in icy conditions or if a binding had failed ). Sneachda is a really spectacular natural amphitheatre, with good climbing and several steep ski descents (we saw one skier straightline Jacob’s Ladder – I don’t think he realised I was joking when I asked him if he had his eyes shut).

malc, eoghann and logie in sneachda

End of a great ski touring training day

With home time not far away, we eventually tore ourselves away and began the stomp back to the ski area. It was pretty reasonable actually – a gradual rising traverse over boulders and gravel brought us to the Fiacaill Cas ridge. We also had excellent close views of several pairs of ptarmigan already beginning to moult to summer camouflage.

ptarmigan cairngorms

Finally, we got back on skis and headed down through the ski area, taking in a few jumps en route. Definitely beer o’clock at the bottom and thanks to Logie and Eoghann for an awesome day!

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