Winter Essentials - Skills and Techniques for the winter mountainsadded Nov/2005
Reviewed by Chris Craggs
Running time - 123 minutes in total. This includes 43 minutes of 'story' plus 11 chapters making up another 80 minutes.
I approached this DVD with a mild scepticism, intrigued to see how interesting they could make an instructional video, feeling that a large part ot the content was bound to be turgid. In the event I was pleasantly surprised, the neat trick has been to split the video into two parts - starting with a very watchable “day on the hill' following 5 friends, two of whom go climbing (Twisting Gully on Stob Coire nan Lochan) and three walkers (the video insists on calling them mountaineers) who traverse the same peak.
This part of the video is quite inspirational, from arriving at SMC's superb hut at Lagangarbh the film follows the quintet as they plan and execute a cracking day out in the Glencoe mountains. Despite the odd continuity glitch (oscillating snow lines and the occasional deja-vu moment) it manages to grasp the feel of a winter day in the hills perfectly, with spacious panoramas, shifting cloudscapes and tiny figures dwarfed by the magnificent scenery. A couple of scenes feel a little artificial - the walkers spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the likelihood of avalanches, and the complex multipoint equalised belays rigged by the climbers feel a bit O.T.T. - but then again it is an instructional video and 'best practice' has to be seen to be done. It is also mentioned that they were lucky with the weather, getting two good days on the trot to complete the filming, and having lived for a couple of years in Scotland I can confirm this is the case! The filming has a professional feel about it being of high quality and unobtrusive, overall it is a fine effort.
Following on from the film are 11 'chapters' that expand on the theme of the film and provide additional in depth information on a variety of winter topics, these are: navigation, crampons, ice-axes, ice-axe belays, self arrest (always the best part of any winter training session), snow bollards, avalanche awareness, emergency procedures, clothing and equipment, current issues (including dry tooling which seems well outside the remit of the video) and some further information.
Personally I found this section all a bit heavy going, most of it was filmed in grey dank conditions (near the Cairngorm car park perhaps?) and is generally uninspiring - basically its instructors instructing! There is plenty of useful information in there but the presentation lets it down. The chapter on avalanche awareness was especially tedious, a steady 20 minutes describing the various ways of testing a slope to check its solidity, all carried out on a snow bank that was obviously solid.
Despite this, the DVD has a lot to offer, especially to newcomers into the winter hills. It would make a good Christmas present for any young mad keen walker/climbers, and once they were bored with soaking in the various lessons they could flick back to the scenes of the wide open skies and pristine snows of the Scottish hills and remember what its all really about.
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