There are countless avalanche courses on the market, and as with most things, some are higher quality than others. How do you know which one is right for you—and which ones are worth the investment of time and money? Here’s what to consider.
Course scope & outcomes
An avalanche course should have clearly defined goals. The most important one? That you come away from the course knowing how to apply what you’ve learned in your own backcountry travels. Introductory courses should stand alone and increase your confidence in your ability to make decisions. More advanced courses should build on those skills. If a provider can’t tell you what the outcomes of the course will be, keep looking.
Many introductory courses provide plenty of information about avalanches and snow science, but they’re missing an important piece of the puzzle: how to apply that knowledge to make decisions in the field. In addition to understanding the basics of how and where avalanches happen, an avalanche course at any level should include a framework for processing information and using it to make real-time decisions.
Virtual learning is great, and some things—like interpreting avalanche forecasts and understanding weather patterns—are well suited to learning in a classroom. But the bottom line is that there are some topics, like rescue techniques and terrain management, that you can’t effectively learn without spending time on the snow. Avalanche courses that are 100% online and don’t include field time can’t give you the full picture.
You probably wouldn’t sign up for a drivers’ ed course or take a sailing lesson from someone without experience and a certification—when it could mean life or death, why settle for anything but the best? Avalanche education should be held to the same standard. Providers should have met the minimum standards to be listed as AIARE providers, and instructors should have years of backcountry experience, plus a guiding certification or membership in a professional organization.
“Do I really need to invest $550, or can I get away with this online-only course?” You get what you pay for. While some avalanche education is usually better than none (we certainly won’t discourage you from listening to a free lecture at the local gear shop), there’s no replacement for the real thing. Think of it this way: your avalanche education is a piece of essential backcountry gear. You’d probably drop more on a new pack or pair of boots—but this gear will help keep you alive, so don’t skimp. Your life, and your partners’ lives, are on the line.
Your own ability and experience
It’s tough to learn something new when you’re struggling to keep up with the group or worrying about whether you’ll be able to make it back to the car. To get the most out of your course, talk with your provider first. Be frank about your experience and fitness levels to understand if the course they’re offering will be a good fit for you.
The Bottom Line: AIARE 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 for everyone from backcountry newcomers to aspiring professionals.
Ready to choose a course? Find a provider here.
"AIARE gives a consistent standard for avalanche education. I have appreciated having the support of AIARE for my years of teaching decision making in avalanche terrain. AIARE has been well received in my current home of Chamonix, France where there is less of a standard for amateur avalanche education."
— Miles Smart, IFMGA/UIAGM Mountain Guide
"I love and work with AIARE because education is one of the foundational principles of life. When it comes to the backcountry, I’m forever a student, I’m always learning. And AIARE provides the tools necessary to become better at what we do on snow!”
— Chris Davenport, 2x World Champion, Ski Mountaineer, Guide, Honored member of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
"Nearly a decade ago, I went in search of a place to further my education. AIARE was the clear choice. They have a team of curriculum developers to ensure delivery of practical and effective information while following industry best practices. As one of the first motorized course leaders, I am proud to be part of this team."
— Brian Lundstedt, Owner Tyler's Backcountry Awareness, AIARE Motorized Course Leader
"What I really appreciate about AIARE is that it works to create curriculum with a clear mission. The programming is designed to be easy to understand, digestible, and with a focus on a repeatable approach to avalanche education that creates good habits for the way real people actually want to recreate. As a snowmobiler, I also appreciate AIARE’s inclusive spirit, which allows more people like myself to get involved and to go beyond Rec-level education. AIARE has done a phenomenal job with outreach to the snowmobile community and developing snowmobile-specific avalanche education by developing a roadmap for a progressive path towards professional level certification. AIARE recognizes that with the explosion of winter backcountry recreation industries, it is critical to reach many people, who participate via many modes of travel, in a very short period of time. This inclusive approach allows them to do just that. It’s my pleasure and an honor to be a part of an organization like this, and they are a perfect alignment with the mission and values of my organization."
— Jon Miller, Founder & CEO, Backcountry United Foundation
"When I was going through my mountain guide education, AIARE was the standard to obtain for my professional education. Moving forward from my own courses as a student, I loved becoming an instructor and sharing the knowledge of how to make good decisions in the terrain and how to safely gain mountain sense. The mountains themselves provide us with a lifelong education in every experience we have out there. But it's necessary to have courses where people can trust the quality of the material so they can learn certain lessons without risking their lives. AIARE does a great job at providing just that."
— Erin Smart, IFMGA Mountain Guide, AIARE 1 & 2 instructor
“White Pine Touring chooses to work with AIARE as a course provider because of the support we receive and the professionalism of the AIARE organization. AIARE supplies course providers the resources, training and information they need to provide the highest quality avalanche courses across the United States and beyond. I truly believe that working with AIARE as a course provider has not only allowed us to provide high quality avalanche education in Park City, UT, but has also helped to strengthen our organizations on all fronts.”
— Scott House, AIARE Course Administrator and Recreational Course Leader