AIARE Recreational Level 1 Avalanche Course

The goal of this course is to help you learn how to make your own decisions about appropriate backcountry snow travel.

TheAIARE Recreational Level 1 course provides a complete introduction to the avalanche phenomenon, avalanche terrain, decision making, and rescue. This is an ideal first course for those new to travel in avalanche terrain and a great review or upgrade for anyone who has some experience or prior training but feels they need a skills “tune-up.” The AIARE Recreational Level 1 is designed as a stand-alone course for backcountry travelers, serves as an introduction to avalanches and is a lead in to the AIARE Recreational Level 2 Course for those wishing to progress further. During the course we cover the following topics:

  • Types of avalanches
  • Characteristics of avalanches
  • An introduction to how avalanches form and release
  • Avalanche terrain
  • Trip planning and preparation
  • Travel techniques
  • Backcountry decision making
  • Human factors
  • Avalanche rescue
  • An introduction to snow pit work

This course fulfills the guidelines of the AAA (American Avalanche Association) and AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) for a Level I course using AIARE curriculum.


We will meet the first day at 8:00 am at the White Mountain Research Station just out of Bishop. The address is 3000 East Line Street.
To get here turn east at the intersection of Line Street and Highway 395 (Main Street) onto East Line Street. This is the southern most traffic light on 395 in Bishop. Follow East Line Street 3.8 miles past the airport, cross the Owens River and look for a cluster of building on the right (south side of the road). Drive in through the gate and park. Look for signs to the classroom.

For the exact location of the on snow portions of the course we wait and see where the most interesting snow conditions are to be found. We have a variety of options in the Bishop to Mammoth area and you should expect to drive 30-60 minutes each day. We will facilitate car pools to the snow each day but you should make sure your vehicle is prepared for winter travel.


AAA and AIARE suggest a maximum ratio of 1 instructor: 6 participants for the field sessions.
Lodging is not included.
If you want more information on what to look for in avalanche courses we suggest looking at the AIARE website.
AIARE has put together a set of pre-course study material that provide you with a good background prior to the course. Click here to get it.


Day 1

This day is a full classroom day. The morning is spent explaining the contributing factors in avalanche formation, followed by a look at the formation and characteristics of the mountain snowpack, types of avalanches, terrain analysis, and companion rescue. The afternoon is spent pulling it together in a decision making framework and examining the human factors which can make us ignore all of our careful decision making. Yes, this is a long day inside but it sets us up for two full days in the field.

Day 2

In the morning we car-pool to our day’s location we’ll take a closer look at actual avalanche paths, discussing potential routes of travel. The focus of the afternoon is digging deeper into the snowpack, discussing snowpit site selection, snowpack metamorphism, identification of potential weak layers, and applying various tests to assess stability.

Day 3

We take a tour bringing it all together with plenty of practice using our newfound tools of bonding tests, route-finding, and beacon searches. We aim to conclude the day by 3:00pm.

Program Prerequisites:

The course is not particularly physical but you will need to be able to be out all day in a range of weather conditions and you’ll need to be able to use alpine touring skis, split board or snowshoes. We will be traveling short distances on moderate slopes. No prior snow stability evaluation training is required.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes instruction, loan of avalanche beacons, shovels, and probes, and a syllabus. Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.