A new outdoor education centre to meet the needs of one of Britain's fastest-growing recreations will be launched later this year by Perth College. The Scottish Mountain Sports Centre will provide training for hill walking, a sport which attracts almost one in 50 of the population and produces an estimated yearly spend of Pounds 592 million.
The announcement was greeted with scepticism by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. National officer Kevin Howett said: "Mountaineering cannot be learned in a controlled situation, geared to educational concepts and practices; indeed, it would be dangerous to do so".
But Perth principal Mike Webster said they would not be competing with the likes of Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish Sports Council's world-renowned outdoor centre for training in mountain leadership, which completed a Pounds 1. 87m upgrading last December.
"We are not looking at the same level of market," he said. "We are looking at users of the hills rather than trainers of other people. We are not in the business of offering certificates to teachers or trainers. We are aiming at adults, including the corporate and tourist market and family groups - basically people who are using the mountains for leisure."
Stewart Duncan, curriculum director at Perth College, said they had identified "a large gap" in outdoor pursuits: "We hope to offer a provision for people who want training but not necessarily in mountain leadership". People might move on from the planned modular short courses to Glenmore.
In market research for the college, 80 per cent of individuals and clubs interviewed said there was a need for such a facility.
It would offer short modular courses with emphasis on "competence for leisure purposes", covering such areas as navigation, hill craft, weather, safety, rock climbing, summer walking and winter techniques as well as first aid and emergency procedures. It is likely to be certificated through SCOTVEC (the FE awarding body in Scotland).
There would be a strong emphasis on safety, said Mr Duncan. "Safety is not just about fatalities. It's also about people being badly shaken. Our centre will help prevent frights as well as deaths."