Last updated on December 26, 2023

Any hiker, who for a moment considered winter mountaineering should take a professional course! While we may think we posses enough knowledge and experience to control any situation in the mountain environment or accomplish winter trails, the reality is very different. Any activity undertaken on a different altitude than ground level, whether you are going diving or climbing requires significant knowledge, which is crucial in certain situations you may find yourself in one day. No matter how many trails you have hiked, tough times will come and you better be ready for it – this is why it is crucial to take a mountaneering course. Blogs and internet are very helpful but they cannot be 100% predictable with the weather conditions you’ll be facing up there on the mountain. Even on most weather stable months, you can face unusual obstacles on the trail. Check my experience from two professional mountaneering courses, graded I and II level.

Why to take a mountaineering course?

Apart from breathtaking mountain views there are many reason you should join a mountaineering course. If climbing or hiking in Himalayas, South America crossed your mind once you should definitely take the course for your own safety, or if you simply want to polish your hiking skills, it is worth doing.

in Polish mountains in winter

I always knew I want to take a mountaineering course in Tatra Mountains in Poland. Why? The answer is simple – we have one of the best (or the best) climbers in the world – it’s a fact, I’m not just saying. My two favourite mountain heros are huge inspiration: beloved Russian climber – Anatoli Boukreev and Polish climber – Jerzy Kukuczka called mountain bear, both unstoppable and incredibly strong. Tatra mountains may not be the highest in Europe but they are very unpredicatble and demanding. Our instructior once said – Tatra Mountains have it all to learn every skill you need for serious mountaneering, don’t ever underestimate them.

Climbing courses - epic winter adventure in the Polish Tatra Mountains!

Tatra Mountains have an Alpine character. Orla Perc is the most difficult and most dangerous trail in Tatra Mountains. Mountain weather conditions in winter can change rapidly and you may face totally different aura you had on the beginning of the track. Tatra Mountains are not easy! There are many accidents and fatalities in Polish mountains in winter and summer season. Some trails are steep, some are know as one of the hardest in central Europe like Orla Perc.

A good reason for taking a climbing course in Poland is the price – it is cheaper than in Alps and the scope of the training is exactly same you get on the glacier. Additoonally, we have top-profile climbing schools and instructions. 

Apart from the knowledge I wanted to gain during the course, it is always nice to hear stories from most experienced climbers. 25 years on mountain trails tought them more than any book may hold.

Where to take a mountaineering course?

On the beginning I though I might take it in Himalayas. Very bad idea! Mountaineering course should be taken only in places where rescue teams are easily accesible, effective, experienced and highly professional. And that is only in Europe! 

Anywhere outside of Europe (Georgia, Turkey, Russia), the professional mountain rescue teams are not that accessible like in Europe. In Georgia – the first mountain rescue team was only established few years ago. South America and Asia do not have internationally acclaimed rescue institutions. 

Mountaineering course in winter

How much does a climbing or mountaineering course cost?

Prices depend which course you are taking.

  • BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE (Level I) cost around 350-400 Euro for a 4-day course in Tatra Mountains – plus accomodation (150 Euro), food and transportation. Equimpment is usually included in the price but try to have your own crampons at least.
  • The rest of the equimpent can be optained on-site. It is difficult to travel with ice-axe, helmets, shovel, so most agencies supply this equipment.
  • Mountaneering courses are very popular in Canada, Scotland, UK and India and it may start from 4-day courses up to 28-day courses. 
  • SNOWDONIA MOUNTAINEERING INTRODUCTION COURSE (UK) cost £240-350 for 2-3 days course.

Why to take a mountainnering course?

I only understood the importance of the course once it was accomplished. It gives you a great foundation to any future winter hikes. It teaches you all the techniques to feel confident while up in the mountains in heavy weather conditions.

  • Try yourself out on the freezing cold! My biggest mistake here – never ever leave without breakfast! In winter conditions you are quickly loosing body warmth and your energy levels may drop immediately, which eventually leads to hypothermia. Hypothermia may occur if you remain exposed for too long in cold conditions and run out of energy. You have to be self sufficient up there, even though you are with your team, you have to maintain your condition and be responsible for yourself.
  • You will get familiar with climbing equipment – how to use it properly, how it can help you save your life. Some of the equipment will be totally new for you like clips, spikes, ropes, avalanche detectors or even ice-axe.
  • You will learn how to PROPERLY walk in crampons up and down the slope. 
  • You will receive Navigation and avalanche training with detectors. This is probably the most important part of climbing – you have to know how to rescue people, because the rescue helicopter won’t be there on time. 99% of people who died under the avalanche did not obtain an avalanche training. You can only survive 15 to 20 minutes under the snow, while the rescue team needs at least 30 minutes to reach the site.
  • Climbing technique in high mountains roped up with other climbers – this is what you’re going to learn during the course. We also did cave climbing in winter conditions.

Be aware of inexperienced skiers.

  • Be aware of inexperienced skiers, who can access any part of the mountains and easily cause an avalanche. This is exactly what happened when we were up in the mountains doing rope climbing. Luckily the skiers had avalanche detectors and the team found two guys who got stuck under the snow.

What to take for a winter climb.

As mentioned above, never leave without breakfast, you need a lot of energy supply. Take proper food: 

  • chocolate, snacks – nuts, high energy bars,
  • sandwitches
  • warm tea in thermos – always with sugar/honey/ginger. Sugar is one of the most important nutrition in cold conditions.
  • Always take at least 2 pair of gloves, an extra fleece and dry socks.
  • Toe/foot warmer – thermo pads, it is possible to buy them in mountaineering shops. They keep your feet and hand warm up to 8 hours.
  • Googles is a must but the glasses can’t be too dark.
  • Headlight, mirror, whistle – best item for calling help in the mountains.

What is a program for a basic mountaineering course?

This is waht we did on our 4-day mountaineering course. You will receive a training details in advance but remember it all dependents on weather conditions.


DAY 1: Equipment check, proper walking and climbing in crampons – different techniques, use of ice-axe on slopes – self arrests and snow anchors. Use of avalanche detectors and practise and emergency procedures.

DAY 2: THE CLIMB. We hit Giewont summit the hard route – 1,895 metres above sea level and it is the highest peak of the Western Tatras. The weather was highly challenging, the wind was very strong in higher parts up to 50 km/hour. Avalanche danger was 2-3 on the 5 level scale, which basicaly means you shouldn’t leave your shelter. 🙂 Just above the summit we hit snow fall. But at the end the aim of the course is to teach you climbing in heavy winter conditions and to accomplish the summit with the instructors, so you can be sufficient unguided.

DAY 3: CAVE CLIMBING. Using the rope for ascent and descent (Abseiling) in snowy and icy conditions. Cave climbing – fantastic Dragon Cave in Western Tatra. Hiking through the canion was fantastic.

While we were doing cave climbing we heard rescue helicopter flying around. That was a sign of a rescue action somewhere in the mountains. After we found out the skiers going down were cought up by the avalanche and two of them have been rescued by their team thanks to avalanche detectors they had.

DAY 4: Rope use for glaciers and crevasse rescue – very usefull, although I’m not sure if I can remember how to set up all the rescue mechanisms.. The most important thing – once you accomplish the course – go on few climbing/hiking trips or expeditions to consolidate your knowledge and skills you obtained during the course. It is not possible to remember all the rope techniques unless you don’t practise afterwards. You will also get familiar with the equipment and start doing things instinctively. 

2nd Class Advanced Tatra Mountaineering Course.

Shortly after Basic Mountaineering Course I decided to contunue with advanced course level II. I booked it with Polish Mountaineering Association (PZA). February was much better month for climbing in high mountains – despite the incredible amount of snow it was much sunnier and temperatures are lighter. The price of the 4-day advanced course was similar to course level I. 

Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

Leave a Comment