Monday, 21 January 2013

Avalanche Education & Funding

In most countries where avalanche accidents occur the conclusion is that education to prevent tragic accidents is the key.  In Scotland you pay to get such training and even if its a token sum its been subsidised by goodwill in time and loaned equipment for the avalanche training, or you rely on the good will of sponsors, trusts or companies who have to be asked to help. In the current economic downturn thats getting harder to keep up.  Mountain safety budgets are almost non existant so winter lecture series become unviable and lecturers most often professionals need paid something and often travel long ways to give talks.

Three years ago Anatom Ltd/BCA were kind enough to donate free to Nevis Range and Glencoe Mountain the electronics for avalanche training parks, and the ski areas donated a patch of ground to use.  This year after writing many letters I finally nailed down funding from a small trust called "The Mill Cottage Trust" to replace the Glencoe park with a new (still in development) wireless beacon park that also can be used for Recco (another search system) for training.  Basically though there is no money to take these things forward.  I can't even raise £300 to get signs made for these parks, or simple aids that can be put out like "Beacon Checkers" for out of bounds skiers. Maybe even at key outside locations avalanche bulleting boards as there used to be in Glencoe. The was no ignoring the bright pink signs saying "Avalanche" when Hamish had Willie Elliot put them out.

Scottish MR earns and deserves every penny and more of it's £250,000 funding from the Scottish government. The SAIS is a World class avalanche reporting service financed by the Scottish government.   But who has secure funding for avalanche education?  The answer is simple - no one.  We have superb forecasting which plays a huge part, and a superb voluntary (and RAF mountain rescue service) as well as ski patrols who are often ignored yet play a big part in keeping the public safe in the over the back climbing areas such as Nevis Range and Glencoe.  Surely we should complete the circle and get back to trying to prevent avalanche tragedies.

It's a terrible analogy I know, and I  hope it's taken the right way; funding the undertakers is a sign of failure when we should be curing the illness. What I really mean is that investment in mountain safety preventing avalanche tragedies gets forgotten in the rush to do something. The MC of S and Snowsport Scotland certainly do a lot, but I bet they could do more if they could fund more. Education and training is the key surely.  It certainly won't stop tragedies entirely, but if it even prevents one future avalanche disaster as big as last weekends, then it's worth it.  I guess its all a bit close to me now hence the rant as Chris Bell was a guy I liked even though he could whip me everytime in race.  I have been asked to give two Avalanche safety talks in the next month and will dedicate them to this fine young man who along with these other bright young folks lost there lives.

I guess I better get back to scrounging for beacon park signs and stuff to keep them viable.  I have no budget!
The Old Fox doing Beacon Training at Glencoe's Free Training Park


  1. Davy

    Can I re blog this please I get about 600 hits? a day maybe someone will help?

    Have you tried the Scottish Mountain Trust?

  2. Davy, wise words indeed. Interestingly enough, I was unable to fill the MCofS Avalanche Awareness courses this year. One day ran with only 8/12 places taken. The other day I had to cancel due to lack of interest. As you know these are courses run as part of the mountain safety programme on a 'not for profit' basis, yet still folk arn't taking up the opportunitity.
    We (The MCofS) is also struggling with funding. As you know I have taken over work with the Scottish Universities Mountaineering Clubs from Roger Wild. Currently, I have no funds whatsoever to run any events for students in the next 12 months unless an application to the SMT comes up trumps.
    Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor with The Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

  3. Crying shame that no money is forthcoming to prevent tragedies.

    1. Davy

      Thanks for writing this and for drawing attention to this issue. People like myself who really appreciate the educatinal initiatives are not necesarily aware of how difficult it is for the people who provide them to do so.
      Thank you.

      I try to go to as many of the Clachaig winter series talks as I can but when I was looking for the dates recently I struggled to find the information on their website although it was there. I also looked them up on the MCofS site which referenced Heather's talk but none of the others.
      I did find the information I was looking for but I already knew about the tradion of winter talks in February. Perhaps others who do not know this may miss out on them.
      I do not in any way mean this as a critiscism but I thought it worth sharing an observation that may at least help increase awareness of and attendance at what is available thanks to your efforts.