When your life’s on the line, training and certification are important. They tell you how seriously an individual takes their vocation, and how much time and energy they’ve spent honing their skills. When you go into the winter backcountry, your life’s on the line—just as it would be in a plane or at a trial. So how do you know who’s qualified to teach your avalanche course?
First things first: instructional skills and practical risk management experience in avalanche terrain are key. An AIARE instructor might have training in forecasting, meteorology, or snow science. And while it’s crucial that your instructor understands avalanche mechanics, it’s also important that they know how to teach people about them. Look for an instructor who has training and experience in education. Most qualified instructors also have training in related fields, such as first-aid or guiding.
“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
Just as a pediatrician wouldn’t perform heart surgery, roles within the avalanche world aren’t necessarily interchangeable. The snowpack in coastal Alaska is very different from what you’d find in Wyoming, for example—someone who’s spent a decade teaching avalanche courses in Juneau would have some catching up to do before teaching a course in the Tetons. A ski patroller with little backcountry experience won’t be able to help you hone your route-planning skills in the same way that a backcountry forecaster can. Before you choose an instructor, understand what their professional experience entails, where they’ve done it, and whether that aligns with your avalanche knowledge goals.
Certification means an instructor has met certain minimum standards set forth by their industry, which says good things about their qualification. This might mean membership in a professional organization like the American Avalanche Association (A3) or Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA), which means they have significant experience as an avalanche professional. It could also be a certification from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) or Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), both of which have rigorous testing standards. All of the aforementioned organizations make their records available to the public, so check your instructor’s credentials to be sure they’re up to date before you enroll in a course with them.
As with most customer service-oriented businesses, you can get a feel for the vibe from customer reviews. More established providers may have websites or show up on review apps; for independent providers, this might mean asking for references from past clients. And while an instructor’s tangible qualifications are the most important factors, your avalanche education experience is also dependent on your personalities meshing. You’ll be making a significant investment of time and money in your avalanche course, so it’s worth making sure it’s a fit.
The Bottom Line: At AIARE, we believe that a combination of training, certification, and experience are important. AIARE does not certify instructors, but we do insist that anyone who wants access to our curriculum meets certain minimum requirements. Potential instructors aren’t just qualified based on their resumes—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 recognize that skilled instructors may have a combination of training, certification, and experience, which is why you’ll 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. Our dynamic instructor pool does a phenomenal job of bringing our curriculum to life, no matter where you take your AIARE course.
Look for an AIARE qualified instructor HERE.