Know Before You Go: Introduction to Avalanche Courses and Directory

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Know Before You Go: Introduction to Avalanche Courses and Directory

As blissful and peaceful as backcountry skiing may seem, it’s the seasoned backcountry traveler that understands the true risk

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As blissful and peaceful as backcountry skiing may seem, it’s the seasoned backcountry traveler that understands the true risks inherent to the sport. While ski movies make it look like exploring off-piste is all untouched powder and uninterrupted face shots, the reality of backcountry skiing is much more serious. Avalanches result in the deaths of around 150 people worldwide on an average year, and nearly 90-percent of the time the victim or another person in the victim’s party is responsible for triggering the deadly slide. 

From understanding what gear you need, to recognizing terrain traps and tell-tale signs of an unstable snowpack, avalanche courses are key for a safe and successful backcountry experience, every time you venture out of bounds. To gain a better understanding of the different avalanche courses available to the ski community and which courses YOU should take, FREESKIER caught up with Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of backcountry safety equipment brand, Backcountry Access.

While it’s easy to find untouched powder just outside of a ski resort’s boundary lines, that holds no correlation to its safety and stability. Whether you’re skiing through a backcountry gate at a resort or breaking trail deep in the wilderness, avalanche education is a necessity. It doesn’t matter who you are or how experienced you think you might be; this critical education is a must-have for anybody “skiing in an area that’s not carpet bombed by ski patrol,” says Edgerly. 

In North America, there is the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and the American Avalanche Institute (AAI) and the American Avalanche Association (A3) sets the standard for these training programs in the United States. In Canada, Avalanche Canada Training (ACT) provides recreational Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses while the Canadian Avalanche Association provides courses catered to professionals. Generally, these providers offer two levels of recreational courses (1 and 2) and several more advanced courses.

“I’d say the Recreational Level 1 avalanche course is the crux,” says Edgerly. “But everything after that is great [to have] too. In these classes, you’ll learn what avalanche terrain looks like, what information can be found in an avalanche forecast and understand how to interpret it. You’ll then connect what you’re reading in the report to what you’re seeing in the field. It’s not about nerdy stuff like snow pits; rather, it’s all about understanding, reading and interpreting terrain and conditions, and how to navigate effectively through them.”

A recreational Level 2 course expands on the hazard-management skills learned in Level 1, serving as a deeper dive into decision-making and route-finding, and also delves more into the science of a snowpack. Professional-level courses cover all of the aforementioned, general safety topics but add specific elements essential to those who call the mountains their workplace. Often times, these pro-level courses serve as a required certification for entry-level professionals but can also be relied upon for continuing education of seasoned pros. Most avalanche safety courses are generally two to three days and are best completed in-person; you’ll spend time in the classroom and on the mountain, utilizing your new skills in both settings.

Apart from avalanche education courses, though, there are also other classes offered by these accredited institutions, including Companion Rescue.  “In a Level 1 course, it’s really basic rescue—one person,” says Edgerly. “In a Companion Rescue course you’ll learn about finding more than one person, how to work as a team, communicate effectively and all the other aspects that go along with a transceiver-led rescue. The use of a transceiver in a search is a small part of a rescue—you gotta mobilize your group, figure out the leader, do the search, probe, shovel as a team, evacuate the person and [sometimes] treat them for First Aid.” 

Whether this will be your first year on the skin track or you’re a veteran backcountry skier looking to continue your avalanche education, courses are available all across the country. Below, we’ve broken it down by state and region to help you find the right course, closest to you. FREESKIER and Backcountry Access encourage responsible use of backcountry terrain. Do not leave the resort boundary without avalanche rescue equipment, knowledge of the area and proper avalanche rescue training. If you don’t know, don’t go!


Alaska

Alaska Avalanche School

Anchorage, AK

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, AIARE Avalanche Rescue

AIARE Pro 1, AIARE Pro 2, AIARE Pro Rescue

Alaska Guide Collective

Anchorage and Girdwood, AK

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue


California

Alpine Skills International

Truckee, CA

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 1 Plus, AIARE Level 1 Refresh,

AIARE Level 2, AIARE Avalanche Rescue 

Expedition: Kirkwood

Kirkwood, CA

AIARE Level 1

California Ski Guides

Bear Valley, CA

A3 Avalanche Level 1, A3 Avalanche Level 2, A3 Avalanche Rescue

Sierra Mountain Center

Bishop, CA

AIARE Level 1, Level 1 Extension,

Avalanche Refresher AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Sierra Mountaineering International

Bishop, CA

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue


Colorado

10th Mountain Division

Aspen, CO

AIARE Level 1

Apex Mountain School

Avon, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Aspen Alpine Guides

Aspen, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Aspen Expeditions

Aspen, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Companion Rescue

Colorado Mountain School

Boulder, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Irwin Guides

Crested Butte, CO

AIARE Level 1 Prep

Pikes Peak Alpine School

Colorado Springs, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, AIARE Avalanche Rescue

Peak Mountain Guides

Ouray, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2

San Juan Expeditions

Durango, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, AIARE Companion Rescue

San Juan Mountain Guides

Durango, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Silverton Avalanche School

Silverton, CO

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, AIARE Pro Level 1,

AIARE Pro Level 2, Avalanche Rescue


Idaho

Avalanche Science LLC

Boise, ID

AS Rec 1+, AS Rec 2+

Payette Powder Guides

McCall, ID

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Sawtooth Mountain Guides

Stanley, ID

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Selkirk Powder

Sandpoint, ID

AIARE Level 1, Avalanche Rescue


Montana

American Avalanche Institute

Bozeman, MT

AAI Level 1, AAI Level 2, AAI Pro Level 1

Beartooth Powder Guides

Cooke City, MT

A3 Level 1, A3 Level 2

Bell Lake Yurt

Bozeman, MT

A3 Level 1, A3 Level 2, Rescue Fundamentals

Montana Alpine Guides

Bozeman, MT

AIARE Level 1

The Mountain Guides

Whitefish, MT 

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, AIARE Avalanche Rescue


New Hampshire

Chauvin Guides

North Conway, NH

AIARE Level 1

Eastern Mountain Sports

North Conway, NH

AIARE Level 1

International Mountain Climbing School

North Conway, NH

AIARE Level 1, Avalanche Rescue

Synnott Mountain Guides

Intervale, NH

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue


New Mexico

Beverly Mountain Guides

Albuquerque, NM

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2


Utah

American Avalanche Institute

Salt Lake City, UT and Park City, UT

AAI Level 1, AAI Level 2, AAI Level 

Red River Adventures

Moab, UT

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

School for International Expedition Training

Salt Lake City, UT

A3 Level 1

Utah Avalanche Center

Salt Lake City, UT

AAI Level 1, Avalanche Rescue

Utah Mountain Adventures

Salt Lake City, UT

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

White Pine Touring

Park City, UT

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue, AIARE Pro 1


Washington

Alpine Ascents International

Seattle, WA

AIARE Level 2, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

American Alpine Institute

Bellingham, WA

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2,

AIARE Pro 1, AIARE Pro 2, Avalanche Rescue

Baker Mountain Guides

Bellingham, WA

AIARE Level 2

Cascade Powder Cats

Leavenworth, WA

AIARE Level 1

Everett Mountaineers

Everett, WA

AIARE Level 1

North Cascade Mountain Guides

Mazama, WA

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2

Northwest Mountain School

Leavenworth, WA

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Stevens Pass

Skykomish, WA

AIARE Level 1


Wyoming

American Avalanche Institute

Jackson, WY

AAI Level 1, AAI Level 2, AAI Pro 1, AAI Pro 2

Exum Mountain Guides

Jackson, WY

AAI Level 1, AAI Level 2

Jackson Hole Mountain Guides

Jackson, WY

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute

Jackson, WY

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue

Teton Backcountry Guides

Jackson, WY

A3 Level 1, A3 Level 2


Vermont

Adventure Spirit Guides

Burlington, VT

AIARE Level 1

Kingdom Adventures Mountain Guides

East Burke, VT

AIARE Level 1

Petra Mountaineering School

Burlington, VT

AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, Avalanche Rescue


Alberta

Alpinism Mountain and Ski Guiding

Banff, AB

AST Level 1, AST Level 2

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures

Canmore, AB

AST Level 1, AST Level 2

Zacs Tracs

Black Diamond, AB

AST Level 1, AST Level 2


British Columbia

Avalanche Courses Whistler

Whistler, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2

Canadian Avalanche Association 

Revelstoke, BC

AO Level 1, AO Level 2, AO Level 3

Canadian Powder Guiding (CAPOW)

Revelstoke, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2 

Colwest Alpine Adventures

Kamloops, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2, Companion Rescue

Hangfire Avalanche Training

Quartz Creek, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2

Hyland Backcountry Services

Smithers, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2, Companion Rescue

Summit Mountain Guides

Nelson, BC

AST Level 1, AST Level 2, Companion Rescue

Do you offer an avalanche safety course that’s not mentioned here?

To be included, reach out to the FREESKIER team by emailing [email protected]

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