Winter is over, if the Scottish avalanche service is to be believed.
The invaluable forecasts run by the Scottish Avalanche Information Service ended at the weekend, yet the Highland mountains are still blessed with a generous covering of snow.
Climbers on Aonach Mòr
The ending of the service, which is funded by sportscotland, for this winter, has caused some consternation among climbers. The avalanche forecasts, which start in December and run through to mid-April each year, are used by hillwalkers and skiers as well as winter climbers on the popular routes in Lochaber, Creag Meagaidh, Glencoe and the north and south Cairngorms.
The concerns surfaced on the UKClimbing forums, with some posters questioning why the service should be wound up now when there was so much snow still on the mountains, posing a continuing avalanche risk. Cornices, in particular, are prone to collapse at this time of year, and the SAIS blog for Lochaber has an impressive picture of large blocks of snow debris from a fallen cornice.
But Tim Walker, of Glenmore Lodge, the national mountain centre near Aviemore, told the BBC that the last recorded avalanche in late April was in 1952. Mr Walker, who is one of those responsible for compiling the forecasts, said: “sportcotland cannot keep things running where there is no statistical evidence for us to do that.” He denied monetary concerns were the reason for the service ending at this time.
The Highlands have had their best winter for years, with consistent snow on many tops and climbing routes since late December. All five ski centres have had the best number of skiers for years, and the Cairngorm resort is forecasting that it should be able to offer skiing until May.
Despite this, Mr Walker said the SAIS was justified in closing down the service for this winter. He told the BBC: “Over our 20 years, the service has evolved in such a way to cover the climbing and skiing seasons.
“These seasons, not just in this country but in other countries like the US, are constantly changing and we look very carefully over the years what incidents and accidents there have been.”
sportscotland will continue to monitor conditions and, if necessary, issue generic warnings. In the meantime, climbers, walkers and skiers should keep an eye on general weather forecasts and carry out their own snow block tests on appropriate slope aspects to determine avalanche risk.