Highlands & Islands

More people caught in fewer avalanches in Scotland's hills

SAIS Southern Cairngorms team member Image copyright SAIS Southern Cairngorms
Image caption The Scottish Avalanche Information Service assesses conditions in six mountain areas

Avalanche risk forecasters say there were fewer avalanches last winter but more people caught by them - despite long periods of little or no snow.

Twice as many people were caught in one in 2018-19 than in 2017-18 - one of the coldest in 25 years - according to the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.

Three people died last winter, the first avalanche fatalities the service has recorded since 2015-16.

The service said it knew of at least 20 others who survived avalanches.

In 2017-18, 10 people were caught in snow slides. All of them survived.

In a new report, the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) said "dynamic" and "rapidly changing" weather systems affected the stability of the snowpack last winter.

Image copyright SAIS Southern Cairngorms
Image caption Debris from a deliberately-triggered avalanche during a training exercise in the Cairngorms

There were wintry storms, but were also long periods of mild weather and no snow.

SAIS recorded a total of 144 avalanches, including 22 that involved people, compared with a total of 260 in 2017-18 with 30 triggered by people.

In its report, SAIS said hillwalkers, climbers and skiers should be as much aware of potential risks of avalanches in "lean" winters as they were in winters when there was more snow.

The worst SAIS season for fatalities was 2012-13 when eight people died.

Total number of avalanches and fatalities

  • 2018-19 - 144 (3 fatalities)
  • 2017-18 - 260 (0)
  • 2016-17 - 90 (0)
  • 2015-16 - 207 (3)
  • 2014-15 - 305 (1)
  • 2013-14 - 350 (0)
  • 2012-13 - 129 (8)
  • 2011-12 - 154 (0)
  • 2010-11 - 178 (1)
  • 2009-10 - 220 (5)

Every winter, SAIS assesses avalanche hazards and provides daily information on the stability of snowpack in the six mountain areas.

The areas are Lochaber, Glen Coe, Creag Meagaidh, Southern Cairngorms, Northern Cairngorms and Torridon.

Avalanches can occur naturally, be triggered accidentally by people, or be caused deliberately to remove an avalanche risk in ski areas.

Hillwalkers, climbers and skiers use SAIS information alongside weather forecasts to help them plan trips.

The new SAIS season starts on 13 December and will run until mid-April.

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