Snow is tested for avalanche risk on the Scottish mountains

Snow is tested for avalanche risk on the Scottish mountains

It’s out with the old and in with the new as Scotland’s avalanche service launches for the new winter season with a much improved look.

Following a seminar run in April by the Snow and Avalanche Foundation of Scotland, the Government-backed sportscotland Avalanche Information Service website has had a revamp to make its information more easily understood. The principal avalanche risk for the five areas covered is now presented as a ‘hazard rose’ – a visual interpretation of height and slope aspect including more detailed avalanche conditions.

The seminar, attended by climbers and walkers, mountaineers, international mountain guides, instructors, mountain rescuers, police, representatives from national outdoor centres, SAIS staff and weather experts from both the Met Office and the Mountain Weather Information Service, heard that users of the avalanche forecasters often only remembered the danger level number – the European danger scale which runs from one to five.

The gathering also said that although the SAIS information was good and comprehensive, it needed careful study to select pertinent information.

SAIS, under its new co-ordinator Mark Diggins, launched its new reports this week, in line with the recommendations of the SAFOS seminar.

The SAIS site now features a 'hazard rose'

The SAIS site now features a 'hazard rose'

The new reports offer a circular representation of the avalanche hazard, with a general indication of the likelihood of avalanche, on the European scale, but represented in words, rather than numerically. For instance, in the northern Cairngorms example in the picture, the hazard level is generally low, with the snowline starting at 400m. However, the risk rises to moderate on slopes above 1,000m with aspects from south-westerly through to easterly. Within these slopes are localised areas, represented by the small circles, where the hazard rises to considerable.

Black-and-white and colour PDF versions are available on the SAIS website for download, and there is further detail in the accompanying worded weather and avalanche reports, with rollover explanations of technical terms.

The SAIS site includes both forecasts and observed condition reports from the service’s staff who make journeys on to the mountains.

There are also generalised mountain condition reports from the five areas covered by the service: Lochaber, Glencoe, Creag Meagaidh, and the northern and southern Cairngorms which are of use to hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers, especially when read together with the MWIS mountain weather forecasts.

The free SAIS online service is updated at 6pm each day, and runs throughout the winter season. A text alert service is also available for £1 for each text. Details, along with links to avalanche blogs for the various areas, are on the SAIS website.

Our grough links page also contains website addresses for all the popular weather forecasts sites.

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