AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course - Washington Avalanche Training
Decision Making In Avalanche Terrain
We have spent the past 15+ years honing our delivery of this program and our current staff includes some the brightest minds in PNW avalanche safety. A mix of IFMGA guides, ski patrollers, DOT workers, and NWAC forecasters ensures that you get diverse perspective as we explore the "dark art" of travelling safely in avalanche terrain.
For the winter of 2021-22 we will be conducting the classroom portion of the program via an online learning course that may be completed by students in advance of the course. We will then conduct a zoom lecture 2 nights before your course covering the classroom portion of the course as well as a short (1-hour) zoom lecture the evening before the course takes place, so that we can discuss the current forecast and make sure our equipment and logistics are dialed in. For students that would prefer to do these lectures in-person you will have the option to participate in an actual classroom.
The online meeting will run from 6:30-8:30 PM and will be conducted by the field instructors as they prep you to prepare for the terrain, and conditions expected during the field portions of our courses on the weekend. The course is designed to give students a basic understanding of why avalanches occur and to develop a framework for making decisions while traveling in avalanche terrain. We are oddly excited about the opportunity to build in more field time as we have always felt that was the most useful portion of the course for our students.
Additionally the course provides instruction in beacon use and companion rescue should an avalanche occur. Students who successfully complete the course will be given an AIARE level 1 certificate. We also run AIARE Avalanche Rescue Courses
and AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Courses
for those looking to build on their Level 1 training or enter the AIARE Pro track courses.
AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course Itinerary
You will be sent a link to the online learning component well in advance of the course. This is self-paced and can be completed online. Completion of this materials counts towards 6 hours of your total course time.*
Two days prior to your course you will conduct an evening meeting with our instructors. These meetings will run from 6:30-8:30 pm and will review the online materials, get your ready for your first field day, and give you an opportunity to understand the things that instructors doing in preparation for a day of backcountry travel. This will include a review of the weather forecast, current avalanche forecast, tour plan. You will also be given access to your field instructor the evening before your course to ask questions about the field day or follow up on lecture questions.
We begin with a review of the current avalanche forecast, and then we head out for a backcountry tour. During our tour we touch on companion rescue and make observations relevant to our tour and tomorrow's objective. Our goal is to make observations relevant to the avalanche problems we are currently experiencing and help us to anticipate avalanche problems we can expect in the future. We end the day with a short planning session in preparation for the next days full-day tour. (8 AM - 4 PM)
This day will utilize different terrain than the area where you toured the day before and will build on our understanding of the current and future snowpack as we undertake a longer tour. Our goal is to have you back to your car and moving towards home by 4 pm. (8am - 4 pm)
Due to the increasing parking challenges at PNW ski areas, courses listed as taking place at Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, etc. will not necessarily meet right at the ski area. We utilize a variety of field locations up and down the highway corridors leading to these ski areas that offer excellent training locations and avoid the pressure of being immediately adjacent to the ski areas. These locations will be chosen prior to your course and you will be given detailed directions on where to meet your group. Our goal is to spread backcountry use during what we anticipate to be a busy season in the backcountry.
This course will have a backcountry component. During the field day on the last day of the programs we will spend the full day in the backcountry. For this section students will need appropriate alpine touring (AT), telemark, or split board equipment. On many courses there will also be space for participants on snowshoes. Call the office to discuss equipment at 509-548-5823. It is essential that participants show up with gear that will allow them and the group to travel efficiently in avalanche terrain. You do not need to be an advanced skier or boarder for the course, but you should be able to ascend moderate slopes using skins, and should be able to ski downhill effectively in a variety of snow conditions. The goal is not speed, but rather efficiency and safety.
The AIARE Program
As members of the American Association of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), we use the AIARE (pronounced "Airy") framework for teaching our avalanche courses. There are certainly other methods for teaching an avalanche course, but this is the one that we have found the most effective and currently seems to closest the US has come to adopting a standard for avalanche education.
AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course Description
The level one is a 3 day (24 hour) introduction to avalanche hazard management. While adjusting to the CV-19 situation we will be reducing risk to the public by conducting all of our classroom work online in advance of the course and then meeting outside in small groups for the field portions. The course is expected to:
- Provide a basic understanding of avalanches
- Describe a framework for decision making and risk management in avalanche terrain
- Focus on identifying the right questions, rather than on providing "answers."
- Give lessons and exercises that are practically oriented, useful, and applicable in the field.
Students can expect to develop a good grounding in how to prepare for and carry out a trip, to understand basic decision making while in the field, and to learn rescue techniques required to find and dig up a buried person (if an avalanche occurs and someone in the party is caught).
A final debrief includes a knowledge quiz to test student comprehension and to give feedback to instructors on instructional tools. Students are encouraged and counseled on how to apply the skills learned and told that no course can fully guarantee safety, either during or after course completion.
AIARE 1 Student Learning Outcomes
At the end of the Level One course the student should be able to:
- Develop a plan for travel in avalanche terrain.
- Demonstrate the ability to identify avalanche terrain.
- Effectively use the AIARE Decision Making Framework to make terrain choices in a group setting
- Demonstrate effective companion rescue.
(24 hours including both class and field instruction):
1. Introduction to the Avalanche Phenomena
2. Observations and Information Gathering
- Types and characteristics of avalanches
- Avalanche motion
- Size classification
- The mountain snowpack: an introduction to metamorphism and layering
- Field observation techniques
- Bonding tests: rutschblock, compression test
- Avalanche danger factors; "Red Flags".
- Observation checklist
- Avalanche danger scale
- Trip Planning and Preparation
- Avalanche terrain recognition, assessment, and selection
- Route finding and travel techniques
- Decision making and Human Factors
- Companion Rescue and Equipment
You must provide your own food, lodging, and transportation during the course. All field activities occur in the backcountry near the mountain pass of ski area indicated on your course date. Well in advance of the course you will be provided with a link to the online learning, which must be competed in advance of the course and takes about 6 hours to get through. We will then have an orientation meeting online 2 days prior your course (Thursday for Sat/Sun courses or Saturday for Mon/Tues courses) from 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM so that you can prepare for your field days.
Many students will be staying at home in Leavenworth or nearby communities and commuting to and from the course each day. For those traveling from outside the area we recommend the following options. For courses taking place in December, you will need to book a room ASAP as things fill quickly due to the Leavenworth's Christmas lighting festival. If coming from out of the area for courses at Mission Ridge, Wenatchee is the best place to book your lodging and for the Snoqualmie Pass, we recommend finding lodging on the Eastside near I-90 to facilitate easy travel to/from Snoqualmie Pass.
If you have a group of 2 to 12 people we can often put together a custom date. Weekends tend to fill quickly and we often do not have sufficient staff to conduct custom programs on weekends, but we can generally put together off-weekend custom programs for your group. Past groups include search & rescue personnel, military groups, climbing clubs, youth groups, and groups of friends that travel in the backcountry together. The cost for custom programs is based on the number of people that register, with the final cost approaching our set-date cost if you have at least 5-6 people. Best to just give us a call at 509-548-5823 to discuss your custom program.
This program takes place on US Forest Service lands under a commercial-outfitter and guide permit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs & activities and is an equal opportunity provider and employer.