Winter is a hard time out on the hills, and for the less experienced its demands can seem daunting. From wild weather and brief daylight to treacherous snow and ice and the unfamiliar fiddle of crampons and axe, winter beginners have a lot to take in their stride. But it's an immensely rewarding season too. So you've read the articles, bought the spiky bits, and now you're itching to get out on proper snowy mountains? Common sense might suggest starting small, but there's a problem here: without snow on the ground it's not really winter walking at all. Clearly the higher you can get, the better your chance of finding it. Big but easy is the answer, gentle giants with the requisite whiteness but little in the way of technical challenge. Here's our pick of biggies for winter beginners.
Literally and metaphorically, the Glyderau are the stony heart of Snowdonia. A knobbled spine squeezed between Ogwen and the Llanberis Pass, this dramatic range is the ultimate in Welsh mountain ruggedness. For those in search of altitude the five 3000-footers offer plenty of choice. However northerly approaches tend to be steep and riddled with crags, so for something less fraught head to the softer southern flank. With its high start at Pen y Gwryd the Miner's Track is perhaps the easiest and quickest route to a snowy fix. Up on the moonscape plateau of Glyder Fach at just under 1000m, winter is so close you can smell it.
Gazing serenely down over Keswick and Derwentwater, England's northernmost 3000-footer is an amenable hulk of a hill ideally matched to winter beginners. Up on Skiddaw's smooth - contoured ridges and gentle summit cones there's a feeling of great height, but very little in the way of tricky ground. The standard up-and-back route from Latrigg car park is at its best under snow, but if you're after something a little more challenging try the graceful Long Side ridge or the wild approach from the remote Youth Hostel at Skiddaw House (see the UKH Route Card here).
For reliable English snow you'll struggle to do better than Cross Fell. At nearly 900 metres this is the country's highest summit outside The Lakes, a domed roof capping a sprawl of peat and heather that makes up the North Pennines. There's nowhere bleaker this side of Siberia, but the starkness is so total that it's inspiring. The height and inland position of the range bring plenty of snow, and more than its fair share of foul weather, so while you're unlikely to fall off anything on this shallow-sloped giant an ability to navigate is a must. The normal route from Kirkland is the one you want - see here.
Pen y Fan
As the roof of the Brecon Beacons - indeed the highest ground in Britain south of Snowdonia - Pen y Fan is an obvious target for walkers who delight in the crunch of crampons into firm snow. When winter takes hold the dramatic northern escarpment of the range looks spectacularly mountainous, and yet the traverse of the main ridge over Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big demands only a basic level of competence. But don't underestimate these South Wales biggies - it's cold up there!
Though Snowdonia's 3000-footers clearly offer more in the way of height, winter first timers might prefer to start just a little smaller. Standing free of its neighbours, Moel Siabod has a bit of a split personality - a big shapeless lump from some angles, a rugged sculpted peak from others. The most amenable route is up the shapeless side from Capel Curig, and though this is a brief up-and-back it should still, with luck, take you high above the snowline, with awesome views of the Snowdon Horseshoe by way of inspiration for future winter adventures. For more on this approachable Welsh biggie see One Minute Mountain: Moel Siabod
One of the best known peaks in Scotland, Schiehallion has all the makings of a perfect seasonal starter. If altitude is key then Schiehallion's height at over 1000 metres offers a fair chance that you'll be topping out in snow. The ascent is a breeze too, the mountain's simple uncluttered outline holding no surprises by way of tricky terrain - what you see from a distance is exactly what you're going to get. And then when you've made it to the top Schiehallion's independent stand at the heart of the Highlands ensures a stunning 360-degree panorama, for maximum wintry impact. Though the standard route from the Braes of Foss lacks thrills and fascination, it has the advantage of getting you high quickly and easily. Which is just what you probably want if these are your first faltering steps into winter walking. For a longer, more testing circuit there's always this Route Card.
If you really yearn to slay a snow giant then they don't come much bigger, more reliably chilly nor as easily knocked off as Ben Lawers. Thanks to its sheer scale and inland position the UK's 10th highest mountain is a magnet for winter conditons, making it a popular choice for walkers in search of the white stuff. Many route permutations are possible in this range of several summits, but when there's deep snow to slow progress and limited daylight to fit it all in then a quick linear dash over Beinn Ghlas to Ben Lawers itself will be enough for most novices, with plenty of seasonal grandeur along the way. Starting from a high car park means you'll have a leg-up on the day's ascent, so long, that is, that the minor road from Loch Tay is passable. Here's the Route Card.
For an introduction to the skills and equipment needed for safe winter walking check out our series Winter Essentials for Beginners
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