(Studying the snow pack in AIARE Level 2. Photo: San Juan Expeditions).
get the education: avalanche education programs
- Silverton/Durango, Colorado
- 10 years in the backcountry
- San Juan Expeditions
why take an avalanche education course?
Entering the backcountry will be one of the best adventures of your life. It will take you incredible places and introduce you to incredible people. However, with it also comes significant risk, as venturing into avalanche terrain can be dangerous and even life threatening. As you start this journey it can be intimidating, but if you treat it as an life long learning opportunity you can enjoy the backcountry and gain the knowledge necessary to mitigate risk. The following blog post does not replace any formal avalanche education but outlines the education you need to start to venture beyond the ropes of the resort.
So why even take an avalanche education course in the first place? Well there's a ton of good reasons, here are our top 5.
1.You will learn how to recognize avalanche terrain and how to avoid risk while traveling in or around it
2. You will learn how to read the avalanche forecast and use it to make a trip plan
3. You will learn how to read the snowpack and look for weak layers that might cause avalanches
4. You will learn how to rescue someone if an avalanche does occur
5. You will meet other like minded people who may become awesome backcountry partners
WHAT KINDS OF AVALANCHE PROGRAMS ARE THERE?
If you want to play near or in avalanche terrain, you need a Level 1 course. Guide services and schools who use AIARE curriculum and the American Avalanche Institute are the two largest providers in the US. If you go with someone else, make sure they meet the minimum guidelines set by American Avalanche Association for a Level 1 course. At least 3 days long, at least 2 of those days outside on the snow. The course should be taught by experienced avalanche professionals, who are also trained educators. The course should give you a process to manage your risk after the course (after all that’s why you’re taking the course) not just teach you about avalanches.
Avalanche.org is great place to start to both find your local avalanche forecast and find an avalanche education course. The site is a partnership between the National Avalanche Center (which is an umbrella Forest Service organization for all avalanche centers that are a part of the US Forest Service) and the American Avalanche Association, which is the professional organization that represents avalanche professionals (like the Bar Association for Attorneys or the American Medical Association for doctors). A3 oversees the training of avalanche professionals in the US and sets minimum guidelines for rec avalanche education courses.
In Canada, both avalanche forecasting and avalanche education are nationalized and run by Avalanche Canada. Start at avalanche.ca to find a course. The Canadian Avalanche Association is Canada avalanche professional organization and they provide professional training for all avalanche professionals.
links for avy ed outside the u.s.
what can i expect from an avalanche education class in general?
Beacon Drills. (Photo: Jacob J Photography)
In a typical avalanche education program attendees can expect to learn:
- How to prepare for backcountry travel with seasonal and daily routines
- How to use planning tools and checklists to facilitate communicating and making decisions as a group in order to reduce risk in avalanche terrain or avoid it all together
- How to do a companion rescue
- Techniques to continue to improve their rescue skills after a course completion.
who is aiare?
AIARE is a nonprofit educational organization that writes research based curriculum for recreational travelers. Our focus is to enhance teaching about avalanche hazard and risk management with understanding from relevant fields such as behavioral economics, psychology, sociology, non-avalanche risk management, leadership, education and instruction along with lessons to be learn from industries such as medicine, aviation, firefighting and teaching.
We train experienced avalanche professionals to teach this curriculum and provide them with ongoing professional development. Through our provider network of over 100 providers such as guide services and schools in at least 13 states, we help support high quality and accessible avalanche education for over 10,000 students every year.
We also provide professional avalanche training as one of 6 professional training programs overseen by the American Avalanche Association.
what kinds of programs does aiare offer specifically?
pro vs. rec - how do i choose the right avy course for me?
aiare level 1
In this 3 day course you will learn:
- How to identify avalanche terrain using digital maps as well as in the field
- How to plan a safe and efficient ski tour
- How to evaluate weather, avalanche forecasts and snowpack
- How to safely execute a companion rescue
- And most importantly, how to make safe group decisions in avalanche terrain
(Practicing with rescue drills with the shovels. Photo: San Juan Expeditions)
aiare level 2
- Identify specific pieces of avalanche terrain and where consequences may be more severe.
- Use tools such as weather models, SNOTEL data, and avalanche forecasts to make informed decisions on what types of terrain to enter
- Demonstrate leadership skills within a small team that include facilitating small group discussion, promoting appropriate terrain selection, and utilizing simple risk management strategies.
- Develop an ability for simple point forecasting for terrain where you may no longer have access to a published avalanche bulletin.
do i need to take a pro course?
where can i find an avalanche course in my area?
go out with a guide + find mentors!
more san juan expeditions courses offered
intro to backcountry skiing/splitboarding
- Skinning techniques for different terrain
- Transitioning quickly from uphill mode to downhill, and back
- Downhill technique for varied terrain and snow conditions
- Avalanche terrain awareness and detailed explanation of how to read the forecast
alumni mentorship ski/split days
two day advanced backcountry touring
- Faster transitions
- Transitioning to booting quickly and safely in steep terrain
- Steep skinning and setting a good track
- Avalanche terrain awareness
- Terrain assessment for stability and snow quality
- Downhill technique for difficult snow conditions
hut based avy course
women's specific courses
Staying alive in avalanche terrain
Other recommended reads:
- Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler
- Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills by The Mountaineers
- The Avalanche Handbook by David Mclung and Peter Shaerer
- ABC’s of Avalanche Safety by Sue Ferguson & Ed LaChapelle
- Avalanche Essentials: A Step by Step System for Safety and Survival by Bruce Tremper