Choosing an Avalanche Course


There’s a lot of avalanche courses out there. How do you decide which one to take? Here’s a few things to consider before you sign up and spend your money.

There’s a lot of avalanche courses out there. How do you decide which one to take? Here’s a few things to consider before you sign up and spend your money:

Know where you are at

Be honest with yourself and don’t try to cut corners. If you’ve never taken a course before or are just starting out, consider a basic course as a beginning rather than trying to cut corners and taking a more advanced course. If you are taking an advanced course, be frank about your prerequisites-you may not get the most out of an advanced course if you don’t have the required background.

A course should have clear goals

An avalanche course should have well defined objectives which describe what you will learn and how you will benefit from taking the course. Without goals, you have no idea what you can expect and no way of knowing if the course was successful for you.


An introductory course should discuss decision making

Many introductory courses are pretty good at giving you information and knowledge but they do not have a way of making that information and knowledge useful to you in the field. Everyone, at all levels, needs to be able to use what they have learned to make an informed decision in the field. Some kind of reasoning process and decision making model is a critical ingredient in making any avalanche course, even an introductory one, useful and relevant once you are on your own in avalanche terrain. Ask the course provider about the decision making component of your course.

Introductory courses should stand alone

A Level 1 or Introductory course should be comprehensive and not force you to take additional courses to provide you with a useable skill set. When you leave an introductory course, you should feel you have enough knowledge and understanding of basic avalanche concepts that you can be more confident in your decision making process at home and in the field.


Advanced courses should not just rehash introductory concepts

A good avalanche training program will offer various courses, each of which deal with specific subjects and issues, and which build on one another. There is no single course that can teach everything you need to know, so research the program you are considering and find out what will be taught in the introductory course compared to the advanced course(s). If the curriculum and subjects look the same for all the courses in the program it’s important to ask what the difference is and how your training and education will progress if you choose to go beyond the introductory level.

What curriculum guidelines and resources are used

A curriculum that has been developed in isolation by an individual or company alone may not be up-to-date or adequate for your needs. There are guidelines for what subjects should be taught on various courses; these guidelines are set by national organizations such as the American Avalanche Association and the Canadian Avalanche Association. Just meeting the guidelines, however, may not be a guarantee of a good course. Specific lesson plans, teaching aids, and student materials are what make or break a course. Look for a course that has invested in resources as well as made a commitment to curriculum guidelines.

What is the scope of the course

Because there are few standards that clearly describe what various types of courses should cover, you may find that taking an introductory course from one provider or instructor may not prepare you for an advanced course at another school. If a variety of instructors and providers in a number of locations around the country offer courses that are based on the same standards, you will have the freedom to take different courses from different instructors in various parts of the country without wondering whether what you learned in your prerequisite course will be applicable to the next level.

Snow Profile Work

Snow Profile Work

Price shopping can hurt you

Like any other product, you generally get what you pay for. If price is your primary consideration when looking for a course you may end up with an inferior course. Before signing up for a cheap, cut-rate course check what you are getting for your money: what venue is being offered, who will teach, what curriculum and resources are being used, what is the student/teacher ratio… these are some of the questions you need to ask when the price of a course looks too good to be true. Finally, think about it this way: how does the cost of an avalanche course compare to a pair of skis or the price of your transceiver, probe, and shovel? Why are you reluctant to spend a little extra for something that lasts a lifetime and will increase the safety of you and your partners?

The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education is committed to developing a nationally recognized curriculum that can be delivered by qualified instructors and committed course providers across the USA. These courses have clearly defined goals, meet curriculum guidelines set by national and international avalanche associations, use common resources, and provide a clear progression through a series of integrated courses from the introductory Level 1 to the advanced Level 3 stage.

We are an established organization with 65 course providers across the country and deliver a standard that you can trust. We welcome your questions and reccommend you choose and an AIARE course provider when selecting an avalanche training program.