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 (AAA) 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  have been backcountry skiing and mountaineering in the Sierra for decades and know the area and the AIARE curriculums well. As experienced teachers they can help make the most of your investment in an avalanche course.
Curriculum: In the past there was 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. 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. 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 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 six 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.

Changes starting in the winter of  2017-18

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 Recreational Level 1, similar to previous AIARE I, and an AIARE Recreational Level 2 course that will build from and add to the Level 1 course but also cater to a recreationalist’s 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 Recreational Level 1, then continue with the Professional Level 1 followed by a Professional Level 2 and/or, a Professional Avalanche Search and Rescue.
If you are a current AIARE II holder: You’ll be able to take an assessment to upgrade to a Professional Level 1 certificate. That opportunity will most likely only exist for 2 seasons. If you do not take the assessment then the original certification will be just that, an original AIARE II but not a Professional Level 1 or a Professional Level 2.
For current AIARE 3 holders: If you obtained an AIARE 3 certificate in the past your certification will meet or exceed the qualifications of the Professional Level 2.

The professional 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.

Yes we know this is getting complicated and we have had had a hard time figuring it all out too. If you are starting out then it is easy – AIARE Recreational Level 1 course. Already done that? Then a Recreational Level 2 course combined with the  Avalanche Rescue Course prerequisite. The goal of the Level 2 Recreational Course is to take you from being a participant to being a team leader, perhaps in a situation where you do not have a reliable avalanche forecast available to you from an Avalanche Center. If you want to get into all of this professionally then you will follow the Professional track and you would want to check with AIARE for that.

SMC offers Five Courses in 2018-2019

  • AIARE Recreational Level 1.  The Level 1 course is an introduction to 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 are not sure quite how to sort it out. We have developed our Level 1 Extension course to give you practical experience out in front making decisions and assessing conditions, all under the guidance and eye of a professional with years of backcountry experience. We think of this as our “Guardian Angel” program with your own personal “angel” along looking over your shoulder.
  • Avalanche Refresher.  The one day Avalanche Refresher course is for those who have completed a previous avalanche 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 AIARE Recreational Level 1 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 an AIARE Recreational Level 1 but we highly recommend taking it along with a AIARE Recreational Level 1. It is a prerequisite for the AIARE Recreational Level 2.
  • AIARE Recreational Level 2.  The three day Level 2 course provides the 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. Previous AIARE Level 2 courses were four days in length but this included Avalanche Rescue. So in reality the AIARE Recreational Level 2 combined with Avalanche Rescue is the same time commitment. The one day Avalanche Rescue Course is a prerequisite for this course.

Here is the difference between the AIARE Recreational Level 1 and Level 2.

If you are still having trouble then give us a call.

What is AIARE?

In the past there was no nationally recognized curriculum for avalanche education in the USA. There were many avalanche courses and programs available but in large part, course providers operated according to their own personal beliefs and ideas. There were 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 is now nationally accepted. We strongly support this program and believe that it is one of the best things for avalanche education to have come along.
Get more information at the AIARE Website: