Would I recommend it? Absolutely!
My view may be marginally biased by the first class conditions that we found there. Had we been a week earlier, we would not have made it out onto the hills on the Saturday as the mini-buses couldn’t get out for the snow. Had we been two days later the warm temperatures would have given us soft, wet snow. We could not have timed it better (incredibly lucky, considering that we booked six weeks in advance).
The course cost £205 each. For that we got a good-sized twin en-suite room in the new wing of the Lodge, all of our food on the Saturday and the Sunday (which was plentiful and included some uncommonly good cake), the loan of all of the required equipment, the tuition at a ratio of six people per instructor, plus a couple of lectures. To me, that felt like reasonable value.
My only gripe was that the man in the stores insisted that we needed a 1:50k map each. I have a 1:25k map of the area, but apparently that wasn’t suitable, and he was quite definite that we absolutely had to have a 1:50k map each, so we had to buy two maps from the Lodge. We didn’t use them at all on the Saturday and I only got mine out on the Sunday because I had it. I could just as easily not have used it. Mick’s did go unused. Another couple to whom I was talking, who were in another group, had taken along a 1:25k between them but also followed the instructions and bought a 1:50k each and then were only told to look at them to see what a 1km square looked like. They also felt a little aggrieved.
But if we ignore that one minor point, I could find little fault the rest of the weekend.
We started on a level playing field with the other four people in our group: they all said that they had done lots of summer walking, but had not done any serious winter walking.
As for the content of the course, I expected a bit of walking, and to learn how to use an ice axe and crampons, with a bit about navigation and avalanche risk. What I hadn’t appreciated was how much I didn’t know about the avalanche risk (unconsciously unconscious – a dangerous position to be in!).
Even in the last few weeks there has been evidence in the news of the disastrous results of avalanches in Scotland, but I confess that somehow they existed in my mind as something that happened to other people, in other places – so from just the aspect of modifying that illusion the weekend was valuable. The evening lecturer recounted a number of incidents that he had witnessed. We had earlier the same day walked past the point where, a few years before, he had found himself having to dig out three of his group. Scary.
I had also expected the entire weekend to be stop-start, with a lot of standing around for instruction. Although that was the case on the Saturday, on the Sunday we took an almost seamless circular walk over Cairn Gorm, receiving hints, tips and technique pointers at the same time.
We didn’t take many photos of the weekend, mainly because we were too busy to be capturing events on film (or memory cards). Those that we did take (together with a couple of movie-clips of such a bad quality that they look like they were captured on cine-film) are in the following compilation: