Introductory Avalanche Education

Spring may officially be less than two weeks away, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to forget all about backcountry safety – if anything it becomes even more critical as more people head out to enjoy moderating temperatures and increased daylight hours.

Safe backcountry travel requires knowledge. Photo: B.Kopp

One of the biggest safety concerns for backcountry skiers is avalanches. Like any topic, the more your start learning about it, the more there is to know. You might be thinking it’s too late in the year to get started, but it’s not.

The American Avalanche Association has standardized guidelines for a range of courses depending on your depth of knowledge.

Introductory Level Avalanche Education Courses:

  1. Avalanche Awareness – for anyone interested in learning about about avalanches; provides general information about hazards, how to avoid them and what gear (probe, shovel, beacon) you must have when travelling in avalanche terrain; 1-2 hrs in length.
  2. Introduction to Avalanches – for any backcountry user, this more-detailed primer course helps outdoor enthusiasts recognize and avoid obvious avalanche hazards and understand and use information from such things as avalanche bulletins; 2-3 hrs in length.
  3. Introduction to Avalanches Field Course – puts in practice what you’ve learned in the classroom; covers terrain and traps, route selection, snow pack layering, current conditions and weather bulletins (effects); includes hands-on practice of companion recovery; day-long course.
  4. Companion Rescue Clinic – learn how to properly wear and use an avalanche beacon; do a mock companion recovery (both for individual and multiple burials); ½-day course.
  5. Level 1: Avalanche Fundamentals – for backcountry travelers, this course does what the previous three courses do – in more detail; includes group communication, use of avalanche and snow pit tools, decision-making, and more advanced rescue scenarios; total 24 hrs in length.

How to Find a Course Near You?

Start with the American Avalanche Association’s Education link. The interactive map leads to course providers in all of the western states as well as the East Coast.

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