/ Winter ML Review
Due to a variety of reasons – change of name, change of contact details, change of methods of operating, use of digital technology, review of Summer Walking Awards – MTS will be reviewing the Winter ML Award, it’s Syllabus and Guidance notes in 2013 rather than the planned date in 2014.
To that end MTS would welcome any feedback, comments and alterations to any aspect of the above. I’ll be running through the current syllabus and guidance notes and circulating a copy for comment and review in due course - most likely by February 18th 2013. That way all things winter should be fairly fresh in your minds. This should allow enough time to circulate several versions for a full discussion.
You can download the current Winter ML Syllabus and Guidance notes http://www.mountain-training.org/downloads/award-scheme-information
The timeline I am working to is as follows:
For any changes to the syllabus the proposed changes would first have to be approved by the MTS Board. If successful this would then have to go to the UK Board for ratification and approval. At that point changes could be implemented. The plan is to have any changes in place for the Autumn – December 2013 at the latest.
To have any changes to the Winter ML scheme enabled for the 2013/2014 winter season I would have to any proposed changes with the Scottish Board for the Board meeting in May 2013. The next UK Board meeting is in June 2013 thus allowing time to implement any agreed/approved changes for the Winter of 2013/14.
Please feel free to circulate this as widely as you see fit. Although this information will also be publicised through social media sites, due to time pressures etc I’ll be unable to engage in debate/discussion on these sites. So if you want your voice heard please email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org
MTS Executive Officer
Having gone through my WML assessment just before Christmas I still can't for the life of me see the reason for spending 2 nights in a snow hole. Given the fact as a WML your not qualified in snow holing and the pressure's on the few places available in the Cairngorms, I think a greater range of option's should be available for the 2 night exped, after all who really snow holes in the UK anyway, outside of a course that is. After that its all good.
Does anyone know what impact this will have on those already trained under the old scheme and aiming for assessment next year?
As I understand it the snowholing is a way of getting you up on the plateau so that you are there in the white room for 2 days without having to slog up and down. It is warmer and usually more practical than a tent in wild winter conditions.
Snowholing isn't obligatory. We didn't snowhole on mine, though we tried, but there wasn't sufficient depth of snow. We retreated in a storm and used a nearby bothy. And as my assessor Shaun Roberts said at the time, its not a snowholing award. Expeditioning should continue to be part of the award in my view, as it is in the ML(S). It presents a unique set of challenges for group management and personal admin that should be at least be practiced in the build up to assessment and informally assessed- in that a candidate's ability to cope under this conditions is observed by the assessor.
> Having gone through my WML assessment just before Christmas I still can't for the life of me see the reason for spending 2 nights in a snow hole. Given the fact as a WML your not qualified in snow holing and the pressure's on the few places available in the Cairngorms, I think a greater range of option's should be available for the 2 night exped, after all who really snow holes in the UK anyway, outside of a course that is. After that its all good.
Back when I was very active in the winter hills I used to snow hole at every opportunity. Must have done 50 nights in the UK? It is the accomodation of choice for winter climbing and ski touring. Hoping to be digging in again this weekend ........
I don't have a winter ML, but believe snowholing should be part of that award.
Ultimately it's an emergency shelter which is very effective and worthwhile knowing how / where to do e en if you don't stay in it overnight. I think snow holing enables you to expedition in winter with minimum kit and represents a valuable experience for clients and aspiring winter mountaineers.
> Does anyone know what impact this will have on those already trained under the old scheme and aiming for assessment next year?
At the moment this is a blank paper exercise - what if any changes will be made will depend on the review. Syllabus changes would require all the boards to agree. That process could take a while depending on what the proposed changes were. Personally and based on feedback received so far I'd be surprised if we ended up with drastic changes to the winter ml.
As to how there changes would affect existing candidates I'd have to wait till the end of the review, see what if any changes are indicated then come up with a format to implement them (assuming the boards agree them). So in short - keep calm and carry on. I'll ensure the results of this review are well publicised.
How long after training before candidates can go for assessment. Not able to find any information in the syllabus.
Tranceiver/Shovel/Probe checks and search. WML syllabus only mentions organising a search and when snowholing. Is this me just missing something from my training.
Really enjoying the WML process and discovering new places in Scotland.
> Tranceiver/Shovel/Probe checks and search. WML syllabus only mentions organising a search and when snowholing. Is this me just missing something from my training.
> Really enjoying the WML process and discovering new places in Scotland.
> How long after training before candidates can go for assessment. Not able to find any information in the syllabus.
No recommended period - a proposed timescale is usually discussed with the training director and it would ensure you meet the following MINIMUM requirements (typically most candidates use one to two winter seasons to prepare):
Have attended or have gained exemption from a training course.
• Have completed an absolute minimum of 40 quality mountain days under winter
conditions, with at least 20 gained in Scotland, distributed over a period of at least three
• Have completed at least 10 x Grade I or above named UK winter climbs.
• Hold a first aid certificate recognised as appropriate for the scheme.
Bumpity bump bump...
Can you use climbing days as quality winter days? Most of my winter climbing invloves a long walk in/ out and some nav when conditions get gnarly.
The advice I received is that I should log them, as they build up a picture of my experience, but that they shouldn't count as QMDs, as they aren't really.
Name change to Winter Walking Leader?
Absolutely not! While I know you're suggesting it because some folk (potential clients?) don't get the difference between the 'instructor' and 'ML' awards, ML and Winter ML need the 'Mountain' to distinguish them from Walking Group Leader (which 'trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to lead groups in non-mountainous terrain known as upland, moor, fell and down'). So no way should the clarity you seek in stressing your greater ('instructor') remit come at the cost of *apparently* downgrading other awards (wonder if you'd still be suggesting this if you hadn't progressed to MIC?), and better IMHO to stick with the established award names.
Looked it up, in Appendix 1 which covers what constitutes a QMD: "The Winter ML does not include any technical climbing and should be regarded as a mountaineering award, any skills training or climbing should be part of a longer mountain day and not the sole reason for the day."
Pete, I've sent you an email.
I think the biggest difficulty in terms of remit for this award lies around the teaching of basic winter skills; in my experience there is a significant demand for WMLs to deliver some skills teaching both in order to safely lead a group on the hill and as an endpoint in its own right.
Having read the article by yourself after the course providers seminar, I felt that there was a perceptible alteration in convention away from allowing WMLs to 'teach' these skills as an endpoint in its own right (See http://www.mountain-training.org/blog/guidance-for-winter-ml - specifically "If Winter MLs are seeking to run winter skills courses where the emphasis is on doing winter skills rather than leading people on the winter hills where a bit of winter skills teaching takes place – then that is up to them but not something MTS can readily take responsibility for or endorse"
It has, to the best of my knowledge, been accepted across the industry that WMLs provide the bulk of this instruction (As I recall, the lodge used to use WMLs as instructors on their winter skills courses), and that MICs provided the more detailed, technical coaching as well as the steeper ground/ mountaineering skills teaching. I appreciate that the by the letter of the syllabus this was not the case, but I feel that the level of skill required to hold the WML should equate to being able to advertise and run winter skills courses. My suggestion therefore would be that the syllabus be altered so that the training and assessment reflect this. I suspect a straw poll of folk currently working as a WML would state that the teaching of these skills is at least 50% of their winter workload, and that being formally trained and assessed to provide teaching at this level would ensure the quality and safety of that instruction without being a significant time extension to the training/ assessment weeks.
The other aspects of the syllabus work well, and I think that the experience of working/ navigating, often for 14+ hrs at altitude and 'in weather' regardless of the mode of sleeping accommodation should be kept as it provides a good way of looking at candidates equipment, preparedness, experience and coping strategies over a sustained period.
I send this as an open letter as I hope this will engender some debate, both from WMLs and MICs
Dave Strachan (WML)
Why? Opinions are great but I do need some reasoning behind why such and such a change should be made.
> So no way should the clarity you seek in stressing your greater ('instructor') remit
Greater as in 'wider' (which it indisputably is), with nothing else implied.
Where my stressed 'apparently' was intended to refer to further potential client-side confusion when there's already another 'walking' award with narrower remit than ML, and not implying that anyone (least of all you!) wants to see MLs degraded.
In reply to Murko Fuzz:
Hopefully just a misunderstanding (dealt with off-board) between friends, but better clarified here for everyone.
"Would the wearing of transceivers helped the survival rate of those involved?"
Probably not. One was a 300m tumble, the other involved hundreds of tonnes of slab.
George, from memory of the syllabus, I seem to recall the requirement for 10 graded climbs appears as a prerequisite for the assessment. There is no reference to it before going for training. Does this imply that the ten graded routes should be logged between training and assessment or am I reading too much in to it?
I second dave_strachan's point about teaching of winter walking skills. I would guess that many Winter MLs are regularly working out of remit here due to the demand for winter skills courses.
Great post Dave - summed up my thoughts very well. Taking bookings for outdoor courses where I work, and running some of them, the vast majority want winter skills so they can get out on their own rather than guided winter walking. It seems that there is increasing acceptance as Dave says that WMLs provide the majority of this so it would seem to me that a greater focus on skills teaching would make sense.
The other thing that seems a bit of an anomaly (if I have it correctly anyway, which there is every chance I don't!) is that although there is snow holing as part of the WML but not as part of the MIC, taking clients for intentional overnight snow hole trips is considered to be outwith the WML remit and should be conducted by an MIC. Whilst I understand the issues in terms of judgement with regard to safety, I'm not aware of any specific extra training/ assessment being carried out with regard to this on MIC try/ assessment? I do think that snow holing should be in the WML syllabus though (although with assessment looming after lack of snow meaning cancellation last year I can't say I'm looking forward to it!) for the reasons Dave cites - long days out, full on winter weather and being able to manage oneself in all conditions should be a part of it for sure.
> Why? Opinions are great but I do need some reasoning behind why such and such a change should be made.
I think recent debate has highlighted significant differences in opinion on this, however I think at least looking at how to search with transcievers might be a good idea. They are a bit of winter kit which are definately relevant to the award, whether or not you choose to use them regularly. The number of people who regard them as a skier thing only amaze me, as I can't think of a recent skier avalanche death in Scotland!! If WMLs have at least used them and have some understanding of them then they are in a position to choose to use them or not.
In my limited experience of working Winter MLs the 'pass' standard of people arriving for training is often such that all you can do is teach them to demonstrate the skills well themselves. By Assessment that is what they are required to be able to show an assessor. They are being taught how to show a student what to do and then watch them do it, not how to make them an independent winter walker- there is a difference. That's why the first day of MIC Training is spent taking people who have further experience of using their WML and talking about how to construct a good winter skills progression.
That's not to say that I don't believe that there are many experienced people out there who hold the Winter ML who can craft good Winter Skills courses, just that the Winter ML alone was not a sufficient qualification to do this. Looking at my winter this year I have done very little straight Winter Skills courses where as lots of Winter MLs will be doing tis work regularly but many of them will be working at a level above that they were assessed to (based on experience CPD working with others Award holders and learning from all these experiences).
Based on my experience the WML Trg is not long enough to add the training needed to help WMLs teach independent winter hillgoers- it takes another day at MIC Trg and that is for people who have been using their WML.
To reiterate I have no problem with WML holders running winter skills courses. I just feel that it is beyond the ability of a Winter ML who has just passed the Award exactly at the standard. As supporting evidence I'd offer the fact that so many Winter Skills courses rush through the basics and end up teaching emergency rope work. With novice winter hill goers that time would be better spent helping them practise their new skills in as independent a manner as possible. It takes a long time to make a good winter walker.
Note this is all just my personal opinion.
(Stands back and pulls helmet on)....
I'm a new holder of the award but I do see a clear distinction between teaching ropework/snow anchors, and coaching movement skills. One clearly falls outside the remit of the award and the other is a grey area. If the award is revised, this does need to be looked at, especially as recent advice that is attempting to clarify this has muddied the waters in some peoples eyes (not mine).
I have heard talk of modular awards and bolt ons, and I wonder if advanced movement coaching is something that could become a bolt on. I'm looking at this purely from a practical point of view, where my insurance only covers me within the remit of my award, so whether I'm experienced enough to coach movement for its own sake is almost academic as I'm not insured if I start running winter skills courses.
Maybe the least important idea of those listed, but the Logbook could be released in the same manner as the ML and SPA. I.e. just sent out at registration. I keep forgetting to send in my pre-training days to get the book sent out.
Actually I may just go and do it now instead of complaining.
I think the point is to ensure that the correct people are booking onto training courses as at ML level it is possible to cope with an inexperienced person but at WML if they have little experience they will slow the entire groups learning down. From my experience anyway.
I would agree, particularly after training, but also after assessment on the current scheme, the award holders are not trained and assessed at teaching winter skills, yet by your own admission, it is WMLs that often provide that education.
"To reiterate I have no problem with WML holders running winter skills courses. I just feel that it is beyond the ability of a Winter ML who has just passed the Award exactly at the standard."
Surely this is the argument to increase the rigour of training and assessment so that the ability to teach winter skills is properly taught and assessed. Bring the award in line with current industry practice...
I would agree that most winter skills courses are poor preparation for the hills- there is too much of a focus on the 'sexy skills' of ice axe arrest, and too little on bootwork and the decisions that go into a good day's winter walking- It does take a long time to make a good winter walker, and a lot of mistakes made too.
(Please ensure helmet is CE rated for flak and fitted correctly)
I'm curious as to how much need there is for another step between WML and MIC? I know that there are WMLs looking to make a winter living but many of them are on their way to MIC. Are there enough WMLs who aren't planning to go on to MIC who are looking to run Winter Skills courses aimed at creating independent winter walkers to create a whole Award?
Look at the CWLA. Great Award. But a great deal of effort/cost for a minority NGB (I think the MT figures back me up on that)?
The other route is seeking CPD (such as the courses Phil Dowthwaite ran this year for the MTA and that Tim Blakemore ran in previous years). This CPD doesn't increase the remit of the Award but may make an experience Winter ML feel better able to evidence their ability to work out of remit to an insurance company?
(Helmet in date, inspected by a competent person and correctly fitted).
1 Snow and Avalanches
2 Snow Holes and Emergency Shelters
3 Ice Axe and Crampon Skills
4 Security on Steep Ground
5 Cold Weather Injuries
7 Winter Weather
8 Expedition Skills
IMHO, Route Selection is the most important skill to have. I assume that this will be assessed under Navigation but how much is it assessed? Do the nav legs on assessment give the candidate enough chance to show their full appreciation of this skill. The micro-nav skills are essential but just as essential is the skill of planning a full journey.
Should an assessee have to plan a longer journey, i.e one taking at least 3hrs (if moving at WML pace) and then lead it. This may mean that the Assessment has to be longer but well, this is a Winter ML. It's a big step up from the Summer ML and it needs to be.
> Tranceiver/Shovel/Probe checks and search. WML syllabus only mentions organising a search and when snowholing. Is this me just missing something from my training.
My experience on this wrt Winter ML Training is that it was a really weak part of an otherwise excellent course. So, presumably based on the guidance then (we're talking around 10 years ago - another one who hasn't managed to fit an assessment around small kids!), we were taught a brief session on transceivers. The trainers clearly didn't routinely use them or understand them particularly well, and it was enough to confuse anyone and convince them that transceivers were too complicated to bother with. I'm by no means an expert in transceiver searches, but could easily have taught a better session. So I'd be tempted to either make it clear it's not really covered in the syllabus, or to expand it significantly (and make sure MICs training are confident with it). I think you could make a case for going either way, though, and certainly general avalanche awareness and snowpack assessment should take priority.
Also, transceiver wise, I do wonder how much of the resistance dates back to analogue transceivers, and warrants being reconsidered? Personally, I'd tend to go digital or nothing with people who'll be using them fairly infrequently. I've come across a number of people who just can't seem to grasp how to search with an analogue transceiver after considerable practice, but virtually everyone handed a digital transceiver with a quick explanation seems to be able to conduct a passable search straight off. Sure, there are plenty of subtleties to add in, but that's the same as almost any skill.
But beyond that, I'd say it's broadly right. It'd seem sensible to include more on GPS now that units with built in mapping make it so much more useable. It might be tempting to assume that it's so obvious that anyone who can use a map can easily use a GPS, but my experience (in MR) suggests otherwise.... Although this may now get some coverage at Summer ML level?
I think it's also clear that WMLs will end doing a lot of basic winter skills training. Presumably the debate above is if award holders are inherently competent to run a Winter Skills course in their own right, or if should only teach on a course that's been designed by a MIC, who's then judged that the individual WML has the (additional) skills to instruct at that level? Or have I missed the point there?
Interesting debate. As I said at the start of this due to work commitments etc I've not got near the amount of time to engage directly in this via the variety of forums etc this info is on.
I would reiterate that if you would like your views heard then you do have to email me directly at email@example.com that's the only way I'll be able to keep track of the multiple conversations going on in the internet.
OK the whole debate about winter MLs teaching winter skills bubbles on.
This is the current situation and has been for a long, long, time – wishful thinking and assumptions by candidates aside…
As the syllabus states the scope of the Winter ML award – from Winter Mountain leader Award Handbook Pg 1 (June 2011 Edition) is defined as:
The successful Winter Mountain Leader is validated to lead parties on hill walks within the UK under winter conditions. The award excludes the use of ropes and technical equipment other than required for potential emergency situations. The area and terrain chosen for the activity should be such that no use of the rope is contemplated. Those who wish to instruct others in winter climbing skills and techniques should hold the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate.
The ML(W) syllabus states that candidates are expected to be very competent in the use of ice axe and crampons on a variety of terrain, including Grade I ground, and in a variety of snow and ice conditions. It goes on to state that Winter Mountain Leaders will frequently need to give tuition to novice groups in the safe use of ice axe and crampons. On assessment candidates will be expected to give basic instruction in the elements in (syllabus) sections 3.1 to 3.11 (See Appendix 2).
First and foremost a Winter ML should have a very good level of personal competency in winter skills e.g. moving on snow, use of ice axe, self-arrest etc. Therefore the key emphasis during the training course would be on developing and enhancing these personal skills. From my experience working Winter ML training courses (since the early nineties) invariably the majority of candidates need further in-put and practice at a practical personal level.
At training candidates are given some very clear and basic teaching strategies.
Those ‘must know’ clear and basic teaching strategies were defined by the training course Providers, Course Directors and trainers as:
• Emphasis on good solid demonstrations that ensure that the leader is seen as an expert model for the technique.
• Choosing suitable terrain to instruct appropriate techniques.
• Ensure a simple structure and clear progression in any programme of training
At assessment aspects of the syllabus are assessed often by using peer to peer teaching i.e. individual candidates teach techniques to their peers. The emphasis in this process is on good, solid, clear demos and also checking if candidates could select the appropriate techniques for the appropriate terrain.
The Winter ML award is first and foremost a winter mountain and hill walking leadership award. It was never foreseen as being a de-facto winter instructor award – this has been the case certainly since I started working these courses and was the guidance I was given when I was a course director. Both the Winter ML training and assessment reflect this (as detailed above).
In saying that in the UK no-one working ‘on the hill’ with adults has to have any award/qualification or certification. Being appropriately experienced is enough. Likewise there is no requirement for a sole trader to have insurance that covers them for their activities.
However progression to MIC does entail people being able to develop their experience at a time when they are not full MICs. Hence there will always be people who are Winter MLs (note being an MIA does not add anything to this – you are still a Winter ML) looking to develop their winter skills teaching experience. MTS has no issue with this nor does Mountain Training overall.
If Winter MLs are seeking to run winter skills courses where the emphasis is on doing winter skills rather than leading people on the winter hills where a bit of winter skills teaching takes place – then that is up to them but not something MTS can readily take responsibility for or endorse as candidates are just not currently assessed to that degree of competency. Again that is no change – despite wishful thinking or assumptions by candidates/employers and I make this very clear in the current guidance.
If Winter Ml holders and or their employers etc wish them to operate as de-facto winter skills instructors then there is an option to do this. This process is outlined in Section 12 of the current Guidance Notes under further experience. This is the process many organisations use to enable their winter ML holders to work what are primarily skills courses.
If there is a desire to change this, then candidates do need to email me direct with their comments and reasons why this should change. The final decision is not mine to make but is done in consultation with the Boards.
In this case I would think this is a sizable change to the current syllabus and would involve significant changes to the training course and certainly assessment. To date I’m not sure there are sufficiently strong arguments to support this given the background and comments above. So bottom line Winter MLs can teach basic skills just there is currently a limit to the scope in which they can do this. To expand that scope is possible and full details are contained on page 11 section 12 Further Experience.
MTS Executive Officer
It is well known that there is a very large drop off in numbers between ML(S) and Winter ML. A parallel problem is the lack of any winter training route for WGL’s who do not want to move on to steep ground. The vast majority of hill goers in the UK are walkers, not climbers; one magazine survey I read had the ratio as about forty to one. In the past it has appeared to the average hillwalker that the WML syllabus was dominated by introductory ice climbing. My experience (as a trainee) of the recent simplifications in the WML rope work requirements (ie, it can now all be done with a rewoven overhand knot and a clove hitch) indicate to me that that problem has been addressed and some time should be allowed for the new standards to bed in and become widely known.
There is a common perception of a wide and intimidating gap in the experience and ability requirements between ML(S) and WML. To put it another way, the ML(S) and WML rungs on the skills ladder are set very far apart. This may be a bit simplistic, but the WML syllabus appears to be based around winter munro bagging; it is very suitable for that purpose and I would not support any major change to the current standards. It needs to be pointed out, though, that the winter conditions in Cairngorm do not pertain to the whole of the UK. The proposition that Winter ML is the minimum necessary training suitable for working on Winter Grade 1 ground seems to be entirely correct. There appears to be no need for any major change to WML. I maintain that there is a need for another qualification, between ML(S) and WML.
A twist on this debate was provided by the publication of the AALA Skills Matrix. The current AALA Skills Matrix says the minimum qualification necessary for a group leader in “winter moorland country” is “MIC or BMG Carnet holder or Aspirant Guide or Winter ML or International Mountain Leader”. The AALA definition of winter reads “‘Winter’ means when winter conditions, including snow and ice, prevail or are forecast.” The industry, therefore, recognises the existence of “winter moorland country” but Mountain Training does not provide an appropriate qualification for it. I understand that some County Council authorities in Southern England now offer a local winter moorland endorsement for WGL’s and ML(S)’s working in areas such as Exmoor and Dartmoor; another indication of demand.
The effect of this AALA Skills Matrix requirement, in the absence of a Mountain Training “winter moorland country” qualification, is that non-climbing WGL's and ML(S)'s are prevented by the AALA regulations from taking out winter youth groups trips (whether paid or unpaid) and are prevented by their insurers from taking out paid winter groups of adults. Non-climbing WGL's and ML(S)'s do not, however, just hang up their boots come winter; they mostly continue being active through informal groups.
What is meant by “winter moorland” ? I would define moorland as anything less steep than 20 degrees as measured on an Ordnance Survey 50thou map. This 20 degree limit should apply to any planned route or planned escape route. Steeper than 20 degrees and you are in to the avalanche death zone, where ice climbers and “extreme” skiers want to be, but walkers and nordic ski tourers don't. Away from the small areas of territory described in winter climbing guides there are the Ladder Hills of Aberdeenshire, the moorland areas around Ben Wyvis, Lochnagar, Ben Avon, the Monadliath, Drumochter, Ben Alder, Ben Lawers, the Ochil and Luss Hills, Lammermuir and Tweedsmuir, most of Galloway, Cheviot, the Pennines, most of the Lake District, the Moors of southern England, half of Wales, the hills of Northern Ireland and, indeed, anywhere the slope angle is less than twenty degrees. Any small “Grade 1” type spots of ground in these areas can be easily avoided by any half competent navigator.
What should this winter moorland qualification consist of ? It should be open to both WGL’s and ML(S)’s. I would propose an award with much the same syllabus as WML, but not the rope work, and with increased emphasis on navigating away from avalanche hazards, practising several different emergency shelters, and a more realistic winter camp, rather than a planned overnight snowhole . Multi day winter walking expeditions in the UK mean wild camping at some point; winter camping is a tad more complicated than summer time. Pre-course requirements would retain the Quality Winter Day definition of WML, drop the requirement for 10 named ice climbs and, in order to encourage English based participants, reduce the requirement for logged Scottish Quality Winter Days from 50% to 25% (ie,10 out of a minimum 40 days at assessment to have been in Scotland). As an aside, to call this new qualification “Winter Moorland Leader” would set up an immediate acronym confusion with WML, so I would suggest something like “Winter Upland Leader”, or “Winter Fell Leader”.
It is my understanding that the vast majority of ML's and WGL's are engaged in youth work in the UK, the reason that the ML scheme was set up in the first place. Of my own acquaintances, I know several ML(S)'s or WGL's who would like some sort of winter endorsement but who do not have an interest in WML; by contrast I know only one who will certainly go on to WML, which indicates to me that there is a considerable suppressed demand for an intermediate winter qualification. Once people have attained the Winter Upland Leader level, and consolidated their experience, a number will progress onwards to WML; the shorter, less intimidating, gap between the rungs will increase participation. I think that the overall effect of my proposal would be an increase in the amount of training an individual Leader would receive during their career, which is a good thing, and they would have more opportunity early on for active winter leadership experience, with a concomitant increase in winter Youth Group participation in the “lesser hills”, also a good thing.
>I understand that some County Council authorities in Southern England now offer a local winter moorland endorsement for WGL’s and ML(S)’s working in areas such as Exmoor and Dartmoor; another indication of demand.
Hi David, I believe you are referring to the South West Mountain and Moorland Training Scheme (SWMMTS) here - put together by some of the local authorities such as Somerset, Cornwall etc, which offers walking leadership validation in a series of modules (Coastal and Countryside, Summer Moorland, Winter Moorland). It is worth making the point that the Summer validation is essentially for leadership in good weather and the winter validation is for vile weather - 'These include a combination of rain or snow, cold winds and low temperatures, but exclude conditions present or forecast which may require the use of ice axes, crampons or other technical equipment to protect the leader and other members of the party.' (SWMMTS syllabus 2005). It does not include any avalanche/snowholing! MTE works quite closely with the SWMMTS and they seem quite clear that the current WGL is equivalent to their Winter Moorland Walking Leader.
David, before I comment in detail, could you clarify one point?
Would you envisage the geographical remit being the same for those who hold a WGL, and those who hold a ML(s)?
The bit that I'm not clear on is the suggestion that "most of the Lake District" would fall within your definition of "Winter Moorland". My understanding is that "most" of the Lake District probably wouldn't fall within the remit of a WGL, although there are certainly bits that might.
I guess what concerns me with this is the (unusual) number of incidents, and in some cases injuries, there've been in the Lakes this winter with people appearing to be caught out by the winter conditions - often on ground that'd generally be considered a walking path, rather than "grade 1" type ground, and on fairly isolated patches of "winter". Maybe that's an argument for a more accessible award, though.
I suppose my worry is that if the award were to cover areas that are a mix of moorland and mountain (Lakes, Snowdownia), it will be hard for holders to correctly judge its limits (as can occur with the WGL, despite the pretty clear definition).
I can't see that the range of skills needed to lead people into remote moorland country in winter are particularly different from that needed in mountains. Steep slopes can be encountered in all the areas you mention, and a winter storm above Glen Clova is just as serious as on Lochnagar, even though the ground might be 300m lower.
If organisations feel a need for WGL holders to operate in winter conditions, then an appropriately qualified and experienced technical advisor could help - local endorsments such as those you mention ought to be sufficient. More routes to competence are recognised than just qualification. Bear in mind that AALA in England won't exist in its current form for very much longer.
The WML expressly does not cover leading groups on Grade I ground - it merely requires candidates to have experience of that ground for their personal competence. It definitely does not need ice climbing experience - most grade Is are snow slopes like Broad Gully or turfy ridges like the Long and Short Leachas - or mandatory snowholing (I spent my WML assessment camping in a tent by a bothy at night and wading through thigh-deep powder by day).
I don't see a huge gap between ML and WML - once you have ML, all you need is 20 winter QMDs before your WML training. You can do your 10 Grade Is before assessment, incorporated into mountain journeys you would be doing anyway as part of your further consolidation.
This supposed 'demand' for an addition NGB qualification doesn't really tally with my experience:
1 - The Scout Association have their own permit scheme which covers this (e.g. Terrain 1 in Winter). Their leaders and volunteers therefore have no need for another qualification.
2 - I see little evidence of any demand from leaders and volunteers with the UK Cadet organisations. They are generally struggling to deliver the existing (Summer) expedition syllabus and in many cases prepare teams for the Ten Tors event. Take up by leaders on existing, free, WGL courses is poor. Cadets can also access winter walking courses free of charge via the Cadet Centre for Adventurous Training.
3 - They same applies to the schools sector. The majority, even in the independent sector, struggle to even deliver DofE expeditions in house. I cannot see any evidence of pent up demand among teachers.
4 - Personnel working (paid or unpaid) for organisations with an AALA/AALS license have no real need for an additional qualification as there is no reason they cannot be deemed competent via 'in house training' provided or arranged by the organisations technical adviser.
Hiya Davy, and welcome to the UKC forums. You and I have discussed this before a wee bit offline and like you I know a number of highly competent summer MLs who are put off the WML by the requirement for steep ground rope work, avalanche awareness, technical snowcraft skills etc. I think you are identifying the WML award as more akin to mountaineering in its broadest sense and I agree that this is off-putting to some. I disagree with you however, in the need for an intermediate award. In my view, any winter walking in remote terrain is also a form of mountaineering, and people undertaking it should be familiar with the broad range of skills required.
When things go wrong in winter, they go very wrong and fast, and I think that a personal competency over and above the remit of the award is vital for any leader working in the winter environment- hence the need for experience on grade 1 ground, snowholing in extreme conditions etc. Its interesting for me as a new holder of the award, to look back over the huge effort I have put in to achieve the standard, and agree, that had an intermediate award existed, I would have been very tempted to go for it especially as I often doubted my own ability to pass.... (its hard) I'm not sure however that this would best serve us in assuring the standard of leaders meets the conditions that they work in.
I am echoing Carolyns points really about patches of winter, and people caught out on normally straight forward routes by winter conditions. I am sure that the bulk of my WML award is highly relevant to this sort of scenario- movement coaching, deciding when to put crampons on, ice axe arrest, navigation and group management. Avalanche assessment is also a factor outside of the Highlands in exceptional conditions. During the big winter of 2010 there were avalanche warnings issued for the Pentlands.
Finally, and this isn't going to come out right but I'll say it anyway, but having known and worked with you for a few years I know that your winter experience is absolutely nails, with or without the steep ground requirement. However, you are unusual in having a background in ski touring and are incredibly experienced at that. I suspect that some others who might be attracted to the intermediate award just don't necessarily cut it in winter. If they can't get passionate about all that suffering that winter munros involve, are they really going to be able to deliver when the proverbial hits the fan?
Davy, I've mulled this over a bit more, and recognise that this is a thread in a winter climbing forum, so the views here including mine are definitely from the steeper end of the spectrum!
But, you need these WML skills to be a safe leader. A moorland in winter may have a snow covered path and limited visibility, very different to a misty summer day.
I disagree I'm a full time teacher and I have gained my Winter ML. This was done while based in the Midlands and just North of Bristol!
The current cost of a Winter ML course, is not really any more than that of a Summer ML. And that includes getting the required QMD's in.
I think there comes a point when youth groups need to accept that it's not realistic or cost effective to put people who aren't keen mountaineers through the higher qualifications - they'd do better to recruit suitable volunteers just for this task, or to pay an ML (etc) for a few days work a year. It'd likely work out more cost effective, anyhow.
I understand the lack of time arguement, having not yet done an WML assessment as kids got in the way. But I'm unconvinced the solution is to create another award. If there was to be another award, then limiting it to the same geographical remit as WGL seems the only logical solution. But I can't quite envisage the syllabus, or where you'd teach it within remit, but with reliable snow.
I don't think the jump to WML is all the big at all from ML(S). Maybe I'm unusual in this, but I found it was more a case of honing many skills, and only developing a few new ones. Having said this, I have only done training, not assessment, but I don't feel like I am all that far away from assessment.
The other interesting comment you made was that this award would have an 'increased emphasis on navigating away from avalanche hazards'. Have you done WML? We spent a large part of our training navigating away from avalanche hazards!! There is no part of WML that suggests it's ok to be in avalanche areas!
I found quite a big jump from summer to winter.
It was generally a lot more physically demanding, but the main thing really was the navigation. 1km legs in total white out is a big jump up from summer nav. An intermediate award would need to assess at this higher level, but as Carolyn says, finding the conditions to assess under would be hard outside of the highlands. Even then its not easy- my assesment last year was cancelled due to good weather.
Re snowholing; I hate it and have had unpleasant experiences having to endure surface avalanches, oxygen monitoring rotas, dripping roofs, collapsing doors and disgusting male hygiene habits. Nevertheless that is all part of the winter experience and I would not exclude it.
In my opinion the syllabus is just about right. The challenge is to maintain standards and not allow them to slip.
But can't say I had to deal with that!
In reply to Carolyn:
Agreed. On which note I'd have to say that much of David's 'winter moorland' list strikes me as full 'Winter ML' territory.
> It was generally a lot more physically demanding, but the main thing really was the navigation. 1km legs in total white out is a big jump up from summer nav. An intermediate award would need to assess at this higher level, but as Carolyn says, finding the conditions to assess under would be hard outside of the highlands. Even then its not easy- my assesment last year was cancelled due to good weather.
I think most people find WML pretty physically demanding - but it will depend a lot on the weather and conditions. My jammy husband managed to do his assessment in a week of high pressure, so whilst there was plenty of snow to assess on, there was none what I'd call proper Scottish winter conditions, and from what I recall, they had to do night nav because visibility had been so good in the day. Which is quite a contrast to some other stories of assessment I've heard......!
A qualification route for people who don't do summer would be nice.
Yes I provide courses in my own time.
No time off given from my full time teaching job, to gain or keep up to date any of my qualifications, and most of them I have had to pay for myself.
And I can assure you for each day that I do commercially I do at least 3 days voluntary work with my students and staff as extra-curricular activities or working with local clubs.
Contentious - but I'd agree that there are some big variances in the way that leaders/instructors run these courses, and that some represent much better preparation than others.
I've long suspected that the realities of moving a mixed ability/fitness group around the hills for up to five days on the trot has skewed many courses away from fundamental journeying skills and towards a series of static set-pieces. Some of these are highly relevant - if you find the right area you can do a lot to develop good boot/axe/crampon skills, but I struggle to see the usefulness of igloo-building and intro ropework for beginner hillwalkers - it does seem a bit like pulling rabbits out of hats to keep a tired group engaged.
The importance (or otherwise) of self-arrest practice is a bit of a hobby-horse of mine too, so forgive me if I rant. On firm snow the likelihood of it stopping a real slide is minimal, and one would hope that it is like a 1st Aid kit, a contingency that rarely if ever gets used. And yet providers and students alike seem happy to spend large chunks of day or even whole days playing the sliding game. Is this the best use of time when their ability to navigate or judge safe slopes is still undeveloped? On some recent days, with rock-hard neve underfoot, self-arrest practice has been about as relevant as building an igloo, yet students would have been horrified if we'd simply ommitted it and spent more time learning to walk and not fall over in the first place...
I fear that where Winter Skills courses are concerned, the industry has unwittingly created a monster, albeit a lucrative one. I see a lot of would-be climbers and alpine mountaineers directed towards these as an essential precursor to more "interesting" technical courses. While I don't dispute that there is a need to learn the basics before going climbing, I've also long suspected that many providers are applying a "bums on seats" rationale - they make more money off the big-ratio courses. The end result is often bored would-be climbers on skills courses, and a further need to pull rabbits out of hats.
Not sure if any of this is hugely relevant, or worth an email to George, but as the thread seems to have become wide-ranging and discursive I just thought I'd put it out there! Despite having vested interest I'm actually pretty ambiguous about the "issue" of who runs these courses. Obviously it is inappropriate for a WML to be teaching ropework (this does happen), but in practical risk-assessment terms, if we have one leader doing a traditional journeying day, taking them onto high ground with unsurvivable run-outs, and another fannying around at the bottom of the corrie building igloos and teaching self-arrest, who is most likely to have a mishap?
Glad to hear you say that. It has always struck me as something that it is odd to put so much emphasis on as it likely to be either not really needed (soft-snow low gradient) or ineffective (hard snow, high gradient). The middle range is rather small. More useful in my experience is using an axe to immediately stop a slip, probably using the spike in the snow with one hand on the axe-head and the other on the shaft.
Many thanks to all those who have taken the time and emailed me directly. I'm starting to compile the responses I received and will hope within the next week or so to have them in some sort of order with conclusions. Those who emailed me will receive a copy of this as and when it's done.
If you have not yet emailed me your thoughts etc then please do so as soon as. As I said at the start of this I do need your formal response for it to count. In saying that I think this thread has provoked some very interesting debate and views and I'll be referencing it in any submission to the Board(s) but if you truly want your voice heard then please email. You don't have to right a book - bullet points or whatever would work. I do need rationales though why you think a/ or b/ or c/ thing should happen - not just opinion.
As I said I'll have responses compiled by March 22nd at the latest so you need to have contacted me at least by the 20th March.
Thanks again to all those who have contributed.
MTS Executive Officer
> ... more time learning to walk and not fall over in the first place...
Liking this one lots Jamie.
Regarding the winter mountain environment. The consensus is that the current Winter Mountain Leader Award is entirely fit for it’s purpose and, for all the good reasons which are well known, it does not need any major updates or change. I vote for that.
Regarding the winter moorland environment. Back in the mists of time, when Duran Duran were a cutting edge band and I started ML’ing, the MLTB definition of winter was “when conditions are such that specialist equipment such as crampons and ice axe are required”. Nowadays their definition follows the AALA formula of “ the time when snow and ice prevail or are forecast”; that was a major reduction in the scope of the ML(S) remit. The idea of a winter moorland qualification isn’t new, it has been kicking about since the invention of the WGL.
The winter moorland environment is potentially a lot more dangerous than the summer moorland. Changing the ML(S) winter definition was probably the right thing to do. There are a number of what the WGL handbook describes as “local, site-specific or organisation-specific schemes” which provide a winter moorland endorsement; these schemes are not open to all comers in the way that Mountain Training is. To invent an extreme example, an atheist volunteer with an adult walking club living in the moors of Sutherland would have access to neither the South West England scheme nor the Scouts scheme.
The major hazard in the winter moorland comes from the weather, rather than verticality. It is a major established tenet of the Mountain Training scheme that the Leaders training and assessment environment should be tougher than the environment of the operational remit; hence a lot of micro-nav and steep ground for ML(S) and graded climbs for WML. This works, and is a good thing. To continue with this principle, the proposal for the winter moorland qualification was to retain the Quality Winter Day definition of WML, ensuring experience of bad weather in tough conditions. The differences with WML would lie in dropping the requirement for 10 named winter climbs, reducing the requirement for logged Quality Winter Days in Scotland from a minimum of 20 to 10 out of 40 days at assessment, and imposing the “20 degree” rule on to the operational remit when in winter conditions. The 20 degree rule would be in addition to the terrain restrictions already applying to WGL and ML(S).
The 20 degree rule isn’t new either, it comes from nordic ski touring culture; they are a bit more avalanche risk averse than ice climbers or alpine skiers. The rule goes, “If you don’t want to be avalanched, don’t go on or below anything steeper than 20 degrees”. The 20 degree rule also avoids the vast majority of steep ground emotional problems. The 20 degree rule suits the majority walker in winter.
To recap then, the majority of hill people in the UK are hillwalkers, not climbers (hence the creation of WGL); very many hillwalkers are temperamentally deterred from avalanche prone steep ground; there is concern about the big drop off (no pun intended) in numbers between ML(S) and WML; a Mountain Training review of winter provision is underway; there is an official category of “winter moorland”; there are historical but largely forgotten proposals for a national winter moorland qualification; there are locally run winter moorland qualifications; there is concern about a “dumbing down” of WML, similar to the concern when WGL was introduced; the people (MIA’s, MIC’s, BMG’s and so on) on the committees which make the decisions are climbers rather than hillwalkers.
Fortunately for all concerned I don’t have any part in making these decisions. I do think, however, that the subject should be taken out and aired occasionally, and evaluated against the modern requirement. And now, I think that I really should keep quiet.
; there is concern about the big drop off (no pun intended) in numbers between ML(S) and WML;, I think that I really should keep quiet.
Isn't this just reflective of the large number of drop offs between summer and winter walkers though? Many less people walking in winter than in summer I would say.
I also don't understand why that would be a concern at all, who cares if there's a drop-off in numbers? Surely there is going to be a natural loss of people moving through the awards for a number of reasons.
I do have a mild concern that there are some financial concerns at play here and there might be a pressure to create an award to sell more registration fees and courses, rather than a REAL need for an award...
Agree the WML is fir for purpose in its scope and remit. Do think the whole MLTB scheme needs revamping and making modular though. But that's a different discussion.
Polite reminder - if you have not contacted me re your thoughts/ideas etc about the Winter ML then please do so as soon as. Thanks again to all those who so far have done so. I'm in the process of pulling together the submissions so far.
MTS Executive Officer
You must be getting a sore heed by now mate....
Winter Season 2012/2013
The winter of 2012/2013 has been one of the longest and most memorable for many seasons. After a slow start it began to become increasingly snowier and windier. This helped put down a good snow base albeit with periods of high avalanche risk. After a short but brutal thaw followed by a rapid re-freeze Scotland experienced some of the best climbing conditions for a long time. However these conditions did have a downside. Due to the depth of snow many parts of Scotland had an inherently weak snowpack which often contrasted markedly with very hard and icy underfoot snow conditions. In short for those old enough to remember these things this was a winter like we used to have. For MTS Winter ML Providers this turned out to be a very good year. In 2012 MTS Winter ML Providers trained and assessed 231 candidates (159 on Training; 72 on Assessment). In 2013 they trained and assessed 330 candidates (174 on Training; 156 on assessment) an increase of 30%. There is still heavy snow cover in the Cairngorms and climbing being done on Ben Nevis so for Scottish based climbers winter is still front and centre although not a few are thinking wistfully of sun baked rock…
Winter ML Review
Mountain Training Scotland (MTS) began the review of the Winter ML Award, it’s Syllabus and Guidance notes in late 2012 with stakeholders including the wider mountaineering public being asked for their views in early January 2013.
MTS received comments and feedback from a variety of sources including
• Eighteen individuals who currently hold the Winter ML or higher award, some of whom are members of Mountain Training Association (MTA) including candidates who have recently completed their Winter ML training.
• Providers, Course Directors, trainers and assessors involved in providing Winter ML courses.
• Stakeholder organisations including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Adventure Activities Licensing Service, Mountain Rescue of England and Wales (MREW) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS).
George McEwan, the Executive Officer of MTS has collated all the responses and has created several documents which highlight the proposed options for the MTS Board to consider at their next meeting on the 30th May 2013.
The documents come in both Word and PDF and can be downloaded at the following link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/93dsstg45zi169i/yxdhmV3u2h
If you have problems accessing either of these formats please contact MTS direct who can arrange for you to access them in a suitable format.
To ensure the received comments and suggestions have been accurately reflected MTS invite further and final comment on the attached proposals and supporting documentation.
For any changes to the syllabus the proposed changes would first have to be approved by the MTS Board. If successful this would then have to go to the UK Board for ratification and approval. At that point changes could be implemented. The plan is to have any changes in place for the Autumn – December 2013 at the latest.
To have any changes to the Winter ML scheme enabled for the 2013/2014 winter season any proposed changes would have to be with the Scottish Board for the Board meeting in May 2013. The next UK Board meeting is in June 2013 thus allowing time to implement any agreed/approved changes for the Winter of 2013/14.
To meet this timeline MTS would need any comments on the attached documents by the 6th May to ensure the MTS Board receive the updated documents in time for the Board meeting.
So please ensure your comments have been emailed to the MTS Executive Officer, George McEwan – firstname.lastname@example.org - by this date.
Thanks to all those who emailed me direct. You all should have received copies of the review. However some of your email addresses appear to not be friendly with my mountain training one. So apologies if you think you were missed out - it's not that just the interwebnet up to it's tricks. If you have not received anything can you let me know and I'll ensure you get a copy - or download at the above link.
George, I think the use of GPS should be included. We have recently done the 4x4000ers on skis and had a whiteout from the Devil's point to Braeriach. We both had a GPS which allowed us to navigate this featureless (until you go over the Braeriach cornice, then its lots of features!) terrain safely.
Errmm did you read the documents that are on the link?
> George, I think the use of GPS should be included. We have recently done the 4x4000ers on skis and had a whiteout from the Devil's point to Braeriach. We both had a GPS which allowed us to navigate this featureless (until you go over the Braeriach cornice, then its lots of features!) terrain safely.
Just realised you may not have seen this link I just posted:
Use of GPS is contained in the proposals. FWIW you don't need GPS to nav thats ection, although being on skis it would be useful but I've spent a lot of hours at night wandering around there with candidates doing poor vis nav :)
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