TGR's Early Season Avalanche Workshop & Course Round-up

By | December 7th, 2013

 You don’t know enough about avalanches. If you think you do, then you surely do not. Whether you’ve barely searched “how to use an avalanche beacon” or you’re teaching snow safety clinics, now is the time to be a student once again.

The Utah Avalanche Center has kicked off the last six winters with its annual Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop (USAW). Speakers and attendees from around the mountain west and Canada converged in Salt Lake City for an all-day series of discussions and presentations, covering everything from rescue insurance to resuscitation protocol updates. Avalanche airbag options and procedures, last season’s most impactful avalanches, backcountry rescue procedures, and decision making in the mountains were some of this year’s biggest conversation topics. 

Safety Meetings

Discussing backcountry rescue protocols. In hindsight, avi courses are way cheaper than helicopter rescue flights. Brody Leven photo

USAW is one of countless early-season avalanche refreshers happening throughout the country (and that other country, Canada). Experienced pilots, ski patrol directors, medical examiners, and the most knowledgeable avalanche educators in the mountains are making themselves available to you. With 500 skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers, the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop attracted the PNW crowd, for the same sub-$30 price, the day before USAW.

Safety Practice

Getting intimate with snowpits, which provide first-time students with an eye-opening experience, with a mix of touch and feel, of what the snowpack actually looks like. Brody Leven photo.

But amid the willing takeover of my cranium, I had another problem: my ski partner is a dunce, and it was time to find a new one. Over 600 skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers with all levels of avalanche knowledge and experience filled the room. I was there to re-fresh avalanche safety before the season kicked off; why not find a qualified ski partner, too?

Brody attempts to find a backcountry ski partner at the Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

A Comprehensive Early-Season Avalanche Workshop & Course Round-Up

Below are some courses you can join before you regret not doing it. In general, skiers and snowboarders with no prior backcountry education should really sign up for an AIARE (American Institue for Avalanche Research and Education) Level 1 course, or one certified by the Canadian equivalent, the CAC (Canadian Avalanche Centre), which are offered by a variety of providers. These courses, generally taken over the course of three days with a mix of time in the classroom and out in the snow, will provide you with a great base of knowledge so you can travel in the backcountry safely. Many of these classes, especially in December and early January, are reaching capacity, so sign up quick!

There is also a smattering of other classes, seminars, and talks listed below that will be great for first-timers looking for that first base of knowledge or more experienced backcountry skiers and riders who would do well to refresh their skillset and knowledge before the start of the season.


Brody Shredding

Having taken the time to educate himself about the snowpack, Brody chokes on the sweet taste of (safe) powder in the Wasatch. Brody Leven photo

The Utah Avalanche Center is hosting a free avalanche awareness seminar on Novevember 26, 2013, from 7:00-8:15 pm at the REI in Salt Lake City. They are also hosting a Ladies' Night avalanche awareness seminar on December 2nd, a snowshoer-specific seminar on the 5th, and another general avalanche awareness seminar on the 11th. and a group of professional women freeskiers and avalanche experts, including Michelle Parker, Ingrid Backstrom, TGR Co-Lab star Elyse Saugsted, Jackie Paaso, and heli-guide Lel Tone, along with yoga instructor Sherry McConkey, will be leading a four-stop tour providing avalanche awareness education specfically for women known as SAFE-AS. The first stop will be at Snowbird on Thursday, December 5th, and the SAFE-AS clinics will cost $110 plus fees per event.

The American Avalanche Institute is also hosting AIARE Level 1 avalanche courses in Salt Lake on December 5th and 12th as well as January 9th and 30th, and at Alta from December 20th-22nd and at The Canyons from January 3rd through the 5th.

Around the same time as TGR's production staff and professional athletes head to Snowbird for the annual International Pro Riders' Workshop, Powder Magazine will be hosting their own Safe Zone Clinic at Snowbird from December 13-15. With 50 spots available to the public, the three-day clinic with place an emphasis on human factors in backcountry travel, and costs $295 or $695 if you include lift tickets and lodging at the Cliff Lodge.

Colorado/Denver Metro Area

Backcountry Babes are hosting an avalanche awareness clinic on December 7th at the Colorado Mountaineering Center in Golden from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. 30% of the time will be spent in the classroom while the remaining 70% will be held in the field. The class costs $45.

As well, Apex Mountain School in Avon is offering AIARE Level 1 courses on December 13-15, January 3-4, January 10-12, January 24-26, as well as further dates in February and March. Not surprisingly, Colorado has an adundance of avalanche courses taking place all over the state, more of which can be found in the AIARE course directory.

Jackson Hole & The Tetons

The Tetons have loads of classes going on, with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides offering 12 separate dates for AIARE Level 1 courses throughout December, January, February, and March, each taking three days and costing $335 per person.

Our friends at Exum Mountain Guides - the same guys that guided Griffin Post to the top of the Middle Teton in Way Of Life and who helped get Jeremy Jones & Bryan Iguchi to the top of the Grand Teton in the final film of the Jeremy Jones trilogy, Higher, are offering their own AIARE Level 1 classes for $300 on January 9-12 and February 20-23. These guys are the real deal.

The Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute  is also offering their own AIARE Level 1 courses at Central Wyoming College with on-snow sessions throughout the Tetons in December from the 12th-13th, 14th-15th, 19th-20th, and 21-22nd for $289 per person. They're also offering combo classes in January that include Wilderness First Aid, CPR training, and AIARE Level 1 for $550.

As well, the American Avalanche Institute is offering level 1 AIARE class in Jackson on December 6-8 and January 2-5, January 15-17, as well as two sets of classes in February. Those classes go for $300/person.


The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center is hosting Intro to Avalanches with Field Work courses with two evening classroom sessions at Montana State University in Bozeman and one day in the field on the weekend. Those classes are being held December 4th, 5th & 7th as well as January 22nd, 23rd & 25th. There is also an advanced class in January. These classes only cost a $30 donation, and the GNFAC is offering a boatload of free hour-long sessions throughout the early season around Bozeman.

The American Avalanche Institute is offering Level 1 classes in Bozeman on January 3-5 and January 18-20.

Skiers and snowboarders in Missoula can attend a variety of short workshops as well as American Avalanche Association Level 1 courses hosted by the West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation.

For folks in Kalispell, the Flathead Avalanche Center is offering an hour-long "Know Before You Go" session on November 22nd at 6 pm at the Stonefly Lounge as well as Level 1 avalanche courses on December 18th, 19th & 21st and January 22nd, 23rd, & 25th with two classroom sessions at the Flathead National Forest Office in Kalispell. The first Level 1 course's on-snow time will be at Whitefish Mountain Resort while the second course will be more snomobile-focused and held elsewhere.

Idaho Panhandle/Schweitzer

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center is hosting a number of two-hour evening seminars at the new Forest Serice Building on Ontario Street in Sandpoint, along with talks about avalanche rescues, the history of avalanche control in the US, and safe route finding techniques. Also, this year Schweitzer Mountain Resort is hosting two permanent avalanche beacon practice areas and weekly Transceiver Sundays at 10 am, with different beacon-search challenges offered by the mountain's ski patrol. The IPAC may be announcing further Level 1 classes as well.

Idaho - Sawtooths

sawtooth mountain guides avi beacon practice1.jpgSawtooth Mountain Guides's Sarah Lundy explaining avalanche beacon flux lines during an avalanche education course. Don't know what a flux line is? Take a course... SMG photo.

The Sawtooth Mountain Guides are offering a pretty attractive three-day Backcountry Skills Course that takes place entirely at the Williams Peak Hut in the Sawtooths from December 13-15. They are also offering several hour-long avalanche awareness seminars at the REI store and McU Sports in Boise throughout December and January, as well as AIARE Level 1 courses, along with Level 1 Refreshers and Level 2 and 3 courses, in January and February.

Sun Valley Trekking will be offering a Level 1 AAA course in Ketchum and the surrounding Wood River Valley that will take place over the course of three separate Saturdays - December 14th, December 21st, and January 4th, going for $395/person. There is also a Level 1 Refresher course in February and a Level 2 in March.

Payette Powder Guides in McCall be also be offering AIARE Level 1 courses on December 6-8 and 13-15 for $350/person as well as January 31-February 2 on a three-day yurt trip to Lick Creek Summit for $595/person, which includes yurt accomodations, transportation, and "hearty meals." PPG is also offering three shorter classes - Introduction to the Backcountry, AAA Companion Rescue, and AAA Level 1 Refresher - in January and which take anywhere from 4-8 hours and cost $40-160.

Central Sierras/Lake Tahoe

The Sierra Avalanche Center has a great comprehensive roundup of all the backcountry and touring-related classes available in the Lake Tahoe area, which count separate providers offering avalanche awareness classes from Donner Summit to Mt. Rose to Kirkwood and South Lake Tahoe. One of those providers, Alpine Skills International, is hosting an absurd amount of classes, even ones tailored specifically to splitboarders, but also AIARE Level 1 courses nearly every weekend from December to March as well as single-day AIARE Introduction To Avalanche Safety courses in January, February, and March.

On December 8-9, Squaw Valley avalanche forecaster and ski patroller Lel Tone will be leading an avalanche awareness education clinic specific for women along with a host of all-star Lake Tahoe pros, including Michelle Parker, Elyse Saugsted, Ingrid Backstrom, and Jackie Paaso, along with yoga taught by Sherry McConkey. The clinics, known as SAFE-AS, will learn about snow safety in-bounds and in the backcountry, along with lunch, yoga, and aprés, and cost $110 per person plus fees.

Eastern Sierras/Mammoth

The Sierra Mountain Center is offering three-day Level 1 courses with classroom sections at the White Mountain Research Station just outside of Bishop with on-snow sessions in the general Mammoth/Bishop area depending on where the snow is "most interesting." Those classes go for $385/person and run on December 28-30, January 3-5 and 18-20, along with dates in February and march. Single-day AIARE Level 1 Refresher courses are available on December 14th & 28th as well as January 4th & 11th for $145.

Mt. Shasta

The Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center is hosting a lineup of short presentations discussing "key factors leading to avalanche formation and avalanche accidents," with one each month starting December 7th, along with monthly beacon training sessions at The Fifth Season shop in Mt. Shasta City starting December 8th. Shasta Mountain Guides will be offering an AIARE Level 1 course on January 18-20 and another in February for $375, with SWS Mountain Guides offering similar dates.


Oregon Ski Guides is offering an AIARE Level 1 course from December 13-15 in the Bend area around Mt. Bachelor for $325, with another course in late January. They are also offering Level 1 classes in Portland and on snow at Mt. Hood January 7-9 and January 11-12, with dates in February as well.

The Oregon Avalanche Institute is offering a single-day refresher course for former Level 1 students for $125 in the Bend area on December 14th; the rest of their early-season Level 1 classes are full at the moment.

Seattle & The Cascades

The Patagonia store in Seattle is hosting a free avalanche awareness class presented by the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center on November 20th at 6:30 pm.

A bunch of guiding services and education providers are hosting avalanche classes this early season in Washington. The American Alpine Institute is hosting AIARE Level 1 courses at Mt. Baker every weekend starting November 29th for $325 and going all the way through early March, along with January and February classes in Leavenworth with on-snow sessions at Blewett Pass.

BC Adventure Guides is offering Level 1 AIARE classes with classroom sessions at Pro Ski Service in Seattle and on-snow sessions at Snoqualmie Pass on December 3-5 and 17-19 as well as January 2-3, 14-16, and 28-30, along with sessions in February. Classes are $315 or $495 if you add on the Intro to Touring class BCAG offers.

The Northwest Mountain School offers AIARE Level 1 classes with classroom time in Leavenworth and on-snow time in the backcountry around Steven's Pass Ski Area for $325 on December 6-8, 13-15, and 27-29 along with dates through March.

As well, the final two SAFE-AS clinics - avalanche education clinics led by and tailored to women - will take place on December 14th at Crystal Mountain and on December 15th at Steven's Pass. The clinics, taught by Squaw Valley ski patroller, avalanche forecaster and heli guide Lel Tone along with pro skiers like Ingrid Backstrom and Elyse Saugsted, will include yoga, lunch, and aprés, and will cost $110 plus fees per person.

Vancouver & British Columbia

The Canadian Avalanche Centre is hosting free presentations on avalanche safety and awareness in Vancouver on November 24th at the University of British Columbia from 7-9 pm and in Whistler at the Whistler Secondary School on November 26th from 7-9 pm, along with additional presentations elsewhere throughout British Columbia.

The CAC is the equivalent of AIARE in Canada, and hosts and certifies people in avalanche awareness and safety in much the same way. The organization's site has a great directory of Avalanche Skills Training 1 & 2 courses throughout Vancouver and British Columbia, most of which cost around $250, require about seven hours of classtime and one day in the field, and begin in early December.

Northeast/New England

A little taste of some of the backcountry New England, and in particular Mt. Washington, has to offer with the proper avalanche awareness background

Yes, there are avalanches in the Northeast, too! Particularly if you're itching to ski some of the incredible high-alpine terrain New Hampshire's Mt. Washington holds in areas like Tuckerman Ravine and the Gulf of Slides, a proper avalanche awareness background is a must, and there has been a notable growth in course offerings in the North Conway/Mt. Washington area as of late. Chauvin Mountain Guides teach a three-day AIARE Leve 1 on the slopes of Mt. Washington for $325 per person on December 28-30 and January 25-27, with additional dates in February and March.

Eastern Mountain Sports is offering its own AIARE courses nearly every week of the winter starting December 28th and hosted both at its North Conway Climbing School and in the surrounding White Mountains, and the International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway, as well as Synott Mountain Guides, are offering their own courses as well.

International Mountain Equipment in North Conway is offering a continuing education series called the Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop on four separate Saturdays throughout the winter - December 14, January 11, February 8, and a TBA date in March - that will be held at IME's headquarters in North Conway at 7 pm on the given dates and will be free to the public, but geared for experienced backcountry users who've taken at least a Level 1 class before. The first will be about the Northeast's early-season snowpack.

The Appalachian Mountain Club is offering their own avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine in March, and Mooney Mountain Guides offers guided tours specific to those getting into touring for the first time. New England skiers will be pretty surprised how much backcountry & avalanche education is available right in their backyard.

Don't see a class in your area? Chances are one is listed on the AIARE website, which has an absurdly comprehensive list of classes offered using their teaching criteria. If you're one of our friends from the Far North, the Canadian Avalanche Centre may has information about additional workshops and courses not listed here.

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