Avalanche Education has undergone many changes over the years and 2017/2018 sees significant changes coming from the American Avalanche Association and AIARE. The overall change is splitting programs into a Recreational track and a Professional track.
For Recreationalists; There will be an AIARE REC1 course, similar to today’s AIARE1, an AIARE REC2 course that will build from and add to the REC1 course but also cater to a recreationalists needs. There will also be a stand alone Avalanche Rescue Course.
For Professionals; If you’re an aspiring professional- patroller, guide, avalanche educator or forecaster, there will be a specific track for you. You’ll start with the AIARE REC 1, then continue with the PRO1 and PRO2 and PRO-SAR”
For current AIARE2 holders; If you currently have an AIARE2, you’ll be able to take an assessment to obtain a PRO1 certificate. That opportunity will likely only exist for 2 seasons. If you do not take the assessment then the certification will be just that; an AIARE2 but not a Pro1 orPro2
For current AIARE3 holders; If you have, or obtain an AIARE3 certificate in 2017 your certification will meet or exceed the qualifications of the PRO2.
The Pro courses will be taught by a small number of providers who have undergone extensive evaluation, training and familiarity with the curriculum. As of 2017 the exact process of achieving this has not been defined so at SMC we are waiting for more details before becoming a provider.
SMC offers Five Courses in 2017-2018
- Level 1. The Level 1 course is an introduction and review of the avalanche phenomena, travel techniques, decision-making strategies, and avalanche rescue.
- Level 1 Extension. This is not a part of the AAA flow, but over the years of teaching Level I courses we have seen a major need for this course. You might have done the Level 1 course and now have all of this new information swirling around in your head and not sure quite how to sort it out. We know that the three days is just not enough to put it all in perspective so we have developed our Level 1 Extension course to give you practical experience out in front making decisions and assessing conditions, but all under the guidance and eye of a professional with years of backcountry experience. We also think of this as our “Guardian Angel” program with your own personal “angel” along.
- Avalanche Refresher. The one day Avalanche Refresher course is for those who have completed a previous Level 1 course and at the start of a new winter want to brush up on the skills that grew rusty over the summer.
- Avalanche Rescue. This one day Avalanche Rescue Course is a part of the new AAA flow. During the Level I we spend an afternoon on basic rescues skills but participants do not have much time to practice or to delve into the complexities of multiple burials or difficult situations. This course can be taken as a stand alone course without a Level I but we highly recommend taking it along with a Level I and it is a prerequisite for the Level 2.
- Recreational Level 2. The three day Level 2 course provides technical and scientific information that improves participants’ understanding of how and why avalanches occur, covers the factors that indicate and affect snow stability, and introduces the snow stability analysis and forecasting process. In the past the Level 2 course was four days in length but this included Avalanche Rescue. So in reality the new Level 2 combined with Avalanche Rescue is the same time commitment.
How to Choose
There are a lot of companies and individuals out there offering avalanche course instruction. How do you decide if you are getting someone who knows what they are doing? We urge you to consider the following when selecting a course:
Training: Ask your instructor what level of training he or she has. All SMC avalanche instructors are trained by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and hold AIARE level III certifications. We are also members of the American Avalanche Association and support both these organizations’ efforts to improve and standardize avalanche awareness instruction.
Experience: How well do the instructors know the materials? How long have they been teaching? SMC instructors (primarily Todd Vogel, SP Parker and Tim Villanueva) have been backcountry skiing and mountaineering for more than 25 years each and have been instructing for more than half their lives. As experienced teachers they can help make the most of your investment in an avalanche course.
Curriculum: In the past there is little agreement on what a particular course needs to contain or how long the course needs to be. Our courses are generally a day longer than some other courses you’ll see offered. Naturally this affects the total cost of the course but when you prorate the difference between shorter courses we think you’ll agree our courses are the best value out there. We have written and re-written our curriculum and tried to cut days out but we just can’t recommend taking a Level I course less than three days in length or a level II course less than four days long, at least in the Eastern Sierra where travel time is generally long enough to preclude doing any class activity the evening prior to the start of the program. There is so much to cover and we believe that the most important part is the time out in the field practicing the assessment and decision-making tools these courses attempt to give you. We wish a level one course could be a week long!
Ratios: How many people are in the course? We keep our ratios low, especially in the field where one instructor to eight participants is our goal for the Level I course and lower for the Level II, so you can get the personalized attention that will help you practice and learn the most effectively.
What is AIARE?
Until recently there was no nationally recognized curriculum for avalanche education in the USA. There are many avalanche courses and programs available but in large part, course providers operate according to their own personal beliefs and ideas. There are few means for the public to assess the quality of an avalanche course or instructor. AIARE was formed to address this situation and has a curriculum that has become nationally accepted. We strongly support this program and believe that it is one of the best things for avalanche education to come along.
Get more information at the AIARE Website. http://www.avtraining.org/