Choosing an Avalanche Instructor

slab.jpgThere are a lot of companies and individuals out there offering avalanche safety training. How do you decide if you are getting someone who knows what they are doing?

Here are a few questions you might want to ask before you sign up:

What level of training does your instructor have? Technical avalanche training from recognized sources is absolutely necessary, of course, but ask about instructor training as well; learning to teach is important too. Other, related education such as first aid and professional guide training from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), etc. may be relevant.

Certification

To get a certification means having to pass a certain minimum standard. In addition to training, you might ask whether your instructor has a recognized certificate. Organizations like the AMGA, the ACMG, the Canadian Avalanche Association, and the American Avalanche Association (AAA), etc. offer certifications that may be relevant. Know the difference between certification and membership: some organizations offer membership without certification while others make certification a prerequisite for membership. Ask your instructor what their status is and check their credentials with certifying organizations.

Experience

How much and what kind of experience does your instructor have and how does it relate to what you would like to learn? If you are a ski touring enthusiast you may not get what you want from an instructor who is a professional ski patroller with little backcountry experience. If you are want to become a ski patroller you might not get all you want from a course offered by a Mountain Guide. Someone who has been ski touring only a few times or for a season or two in their local area only may not be able to offer you as much as someone who has been doing it for many years in many different parts of the world.

Qualifications

There are no regulations that require trainers to meet a standard or obtain a certification before they can call themselves an avalanche instructor. Anyone who wants to call themselves an instructor and offer courses is free to do so. Qualifications are a combination of training, certification, experience, and to some extent personality. There is no formula, you need to take everything into consideration before accepting the qualifications of an instructor or company offering avalanche training. In some cases, young, less experienced instructors provide a great course because they have obtained training and have the right personality, at other times, someone with little formal training or certification might be the best choice because they have a lot of experience that is directly pertinent to what you want and need from a course. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about who your instructor will be and what their background is. Keep notes and make sure you get the instructors you were promised when you signed up.

While AIARE does not certify instructors, we do insist that anyone who wants access to our curriculum and resources must have certain minimum pre-requisites. We do not qualify instructors by resume alone; those who meet AIARE qualification requirements are required to attend an instructor training course and refresh their professional knowledge and skills on a regular basis. We believe that a combination of training, certification, and experience are important and recognize that a variety of combinations of these factors are appropriate; therefore you will find AIARE instructors who are younger and newer to the business as well as some who have been teaching avalanche courses and working in the industry for many years. By having a variety of people with differing backgrounds and strengths in our instructor group, by meeting on a regular basis, and by providing a unifying philosophy, goal, and structure we think we are creating the most dynamic team around who will do a great job of teaching you what you need to know, no matter where you take your AIARE course.  Look for an AIARE qualified instructor when you choose an avalanche course .