Winter Mountain Leader Award: everything you need to know

Posted by Tina Gardner on 28/01/2014
Leader of the snow pack. Photo: Karl Midlane

So you'd like to get paid to guide people up hills in winter conditions? Here's how to take the first steps on that career path.

Who’s it for?  People who want to lead groups of hill walkers in mountainous or remote areas, in winter conditions (probably requiring the use of an axe and crampons), without planning to use a rope. Often regarded as one of the toughest Mountain Training qualifications, the Winter Mountain Leader award builds on the Mountain Leader award, which is a prerequisite.

What’s it all about?  Key topics include security on steep ground, navigation, snow and avalanches, with each being an integral part of leading groups in the winter. There’s also plenty of digging (to observe the snowpack/dig a snow hole) and counting (while pacing during navigation) involved. This award is often used by outdoor instructors and other people likely to take groups out in the winter. It can also be used as a stepping stone to the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate, which involves (among other things) teaching winter climbing.

How does it work?  Pass your Mountain Leader Award  Get some personal experience in the winter  Register for the award  Do a Training course  Consolidate your learning  Go for Assessment  Continue developing as a Winter Mountain Leader.

As with all Mountain Training awards, there is a level of experience you must reach before completing a Training or Assessment course. For the Winter Mountain Leader Award this focuses on Quality Mountain Days in winter conditions.

Where can I use it?  The award is designed for use in the mountainous regions of the UK and Ireland in winter conditions, with Scotland often regarded as the award’s natural home.

Why do it?  Because taking people walking in winter conditions is far more demanding on the leader than the same journey in summer conditions. Or simply because you want to know what you’re doing and how to look after your friends in the winter.

Read our interview with a Winter Mountain Leader to get a personal perspective.

This article is part of a series of articles celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary in 2014.


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1) Anonymous User
05/02/2019
Hello Tina,

I just read your post about the Winter ML course and teaching scope here.
I am a Dutchman and an instructor with the German Alpine Association,
teaching summer mountaineering skills including rock climbing, snow and
glacier travel, crevasse rescue and so on, and I am interested in extending
my teaching skills to the winter landscape. The full-on ski mountaineering
programme with the GAA misses my point because I don't ski, AND I love the
Scottish hills... so I'm wondering two things which you might know: 1) can
I join the Winter ML programme, without having done summer ML, if I show
the BMC my current diploma and training programme descriptions? And 2) as a
winter ML, can I teach winter mountaineering skills (not climbing, and probably also not winter glacier travel) outside of the UK, say in the Alps or Scandinavia? What would you reckon?

I would appreciate any feedback! Best regards from across the Channel,

Harmen Westerhof.

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