A VOLUNTEER search and rescue team is urging would-be winter walkers planning to head into the snow covered northern dales to ensure they are fully prepared before setting off.

The Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team (TWSMRT) says only experienced dale walkers should tackle the current upland conditions, while enthusiasts used to lowland tracks are urged to stay away.

The advice comes in the wake of tragedy in the Scottish Highlands, when four experienced climbers lost their lives in an avalanche that also left a Durham city woman seriously injured.

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Steve Owers, TWSMRT's deputy team leader, said: “Preparation is the key.

“We can see the attraction of going out in these conditions. We have got some fantastic walking country and at this time of year in the right conditions it is even better with a covering of snow.

“If people take the right precautions, there is no reason why they can't go up there.

"However, if your experience is around lowland tracks, don't suddenly think about going up into the high Pennines or Yorkshire Dales because it looks nice.”

He added: “Bear in mind that you might be clear of snow where you are but once you get above about 400ft there could be snow and most of the moorland roads are not gritted or ploughed.”

Mr Owers said it was vital anyone heading out consulted a detailed weather forecast, such as the Met Office online.

“We are unfortunate in that the north Pennines does not have a specific forecast,” he said.

Walkers should also take a detailed map and compass – and know how to use them, he added.

“In snowy conditions you may not be able to see what might otherwise be a fairly obvious track – even on the Pennine Way.”

Waterproof jacket and trousers, good walking boots, gaiters, gloves, food and drink and a working torch are also essential, added Mr Owers.

“Let somebody know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Know your limitations and remember that snow slows you down,” he added.

“Don't go out alone if you are not experienced and if you are in a group, we are really pushing group shelters.

“These are a thin nylon tent with no poles and which fold up into a rucksack. Once inside they keep the wind and rain out and warm up with body heat.”