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  1. #1
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    AST Level 1 vs. AIARE Level 1

    What's the main differences between the two programs?

    I live in an area where I'd have to travel to take either.
    Live in Canada, but often travel to the US to ski. So where I go doesn't really affect the choice.

    ASTs seem a lot cheaper, but also are typically a 2 day course, vs. the 3 day courses of AIARE.

    Did some searching here and on google, and haven't found much comparisons.
    Moving at the speed of a rampaging glacier.

  2. #2
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    I think the instructor is the most critical part. I would be reluctant to use an instructor who schedules classes for early in the season when there’s little snow. Groups often move very slow so be prepared for that. Maybe offer where you hope to go and see what suggestions come back.

  3. #3
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    Sure as when the leaves start changing, this is a sign that ski season is approaching. Giddyup.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

    "Happiest years of my life were earning < $8.00 and hour, collecting unemployment every spring and fall, no car, no debt and no responsibilities. 1984-1990 Park City UT"

  4. #4
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    I don't know exactly but I will say that it's useful to get a different education from your partners just for different mindsets. Being in the US in a major metro area with a lot of folks taking AIARE 1 I've found that their decision making at the beginning often lacks plain "common sense".

    Not sure if it's the curriculum, but I find newcomers tend to like to "follow the book" on go/no-go and decision making vs. looking at what the see and feel and evaluating things from a fundamentals perspective. Knowing the fundamentals is super important, and the right teacher is essential. I think I'd recommend to take a class in a hut-style trip if possible and also in a place with less overload of people. I would think the more people who want to take a course in a given area the worse the average course would be.

    A great anecdote from my perspective is Seattle vs. JH. In Seattle, a lot of people come in wanting to go backcountry skiing and view Avy 1 as essential (good!) but they also take it first thing and have no baseline, no skills, etc. in the winter backcountry. In contrast, I took Avy 1 in JH as a hut-trip. Everyone besides me and my friend had been backcountry skiing with friends / family for at least a season before taking Avy 1. It made for a much much more productive time.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by jacob_dbu View Post
    I don't know exactly but I will say that it's useful to get a different education from your partners just for different mindsets. Being in the US in a major metro area with a lot of folks taking AIARE 1 I've found that their decision making at the beginning often lacks plain "common sense".

    Not sure if it's the curriculum, but I find newcomers tend to like to "follow the book" on go/no-go and decision making vs. looking at what the see and feel and evaluating things from a fundamentals perspective. Knowing the fundamentals is super important, and the right teacher is essential. I think I'd recommend to take a class in a hut-style trip if possible and also in a place with less overload of people. I would think the more people who want to take a course in a given area the worse the average course would be.

    A great anecdote from my perspective is Seattle vs. JH. In Seattle, a lot of people come in wanting to go backcountry skiing and view Avy 1 as essential (good!) but they also take it first thing and have no baseline, no skills, etc. in the winter backcountry. In contrast, I took Avy 1 in JH as a hut-trip. Everyone besides me and my friend had been backcountry skiing with friends / family for at least a season before taking Avy 1. It made for a much much more productive time.
    Agree with this. My AST1 was very much focused on search and rescue, and very limited on baseline skills. We didn't even dig a pit. The AIARE 1 course I took a number of years ago focused almost zero on search and recovery outside understanding your beacon.

    I've got friends who did the AST1 course with me who are desperate to do fly in hut trips but just don't have deep snow baseline skills. So we are forcing them on day trips until the best of us (which isn't me at all) are satisfied with their abilities.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the beta so far. Definitely helps the decision making process.

    Looking at mid winter course (Jan-Feb-Mar). Since nothing is local for me (terrain or education wise), I'm looking at courses all over (New Hampshire, RMNP, Summit County, Banff, Squamish, Whistler, Wasatch) as those are easier to get to have / have easier travel and accomodation logistics. Yeah, it's all over the map. Literally.

    Should where you learn be in a similar snowpack type (costal, continental, etc.) as where you most often ski? Again difficult as I have to travel to get to BC terrain so I don't have a local snowpack type

    The hut based courses are in strong consideration, as being able to do that is one of the reasons for taking the courses in the first place. Plus the extra time with the guides gives more time to learn subtle things.

    It's interesting to hear that AST is more rescue based while AIARE is more on the opposite side of the spectrum. Weird that this topic isn't discussed more openly.
    Is this why the AIARE offer the additional rescue course?
    Conversely, where is more of the terrain / snow observation come in the AST stream? Does that get covered in later courses like AST2?

    The insight about having different perspectives from the different programs is also a good one. as is the use your brain instead of regurgitation.

    We have a good baseline of AT skills: years of late spring skiing at Tuckermans, some guided trips in Europe with a focus on learning from the guides, skinning at the local hill, and dumbass shit like XC skiing on AT gear in our flat lands. So I think I've got the right fundamentals and approach. Need to find a group that has similar approach for the entire class.

    Any other insight / things to factor?
    Moving at the speed of a rampaging glacier.

  7. #7
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    Given your choices I would skip NH. More often than not weather will chase you off the mountains when avalanche conditions are a concern. So look at the areas you might travel to in the future as good to start learning the snowpacks there and hopefully the instructor will begin that education. Most definitely if you are able combine with a hut trip.

  8. #8
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    Nov 2010
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    I'm an AIARE course leader but I don't have any opinion about an AIARE Rec1 vs an AST1. I highly regard the Canadian avalanche and ski guide industries but just don't know the details about how they teach to give any guidance there. It's already been said above but your specific instructor makes the biggest difference in the education that you get.

    Related to where you take your course: I would suggest somewhere with a transitional snowpack, interior BC, Idaho, the Wasatch, eastern Washington etc. The people that work and play in these zones know how to navigate around the widest variety of challenges on a regular basis. A lot of people in places like Colorado that have a shallow and cold snowpack say that they simply don't ski over 30* in winter conditions to avoid the persistent slab problem. That's relatively easy compared to problems that are more ephemeral and less obvious in other regions.

    If you're already a solid backcountry skier then an extended hut-based course would be really good for you. You'll learn the most and get high-quality mileage. I know Rob Copolillo teaches one based out of a hut in BC. Another great place that I would recommend would be the Baron Yurt that North Cascades Mountain Guides use but I'm not sure if they teach avalanche courses up there.

    Back in 2016 or so the American Avalanche Association implemented new guidelines for courses taught in the US that split the pro and rec tracks apart. It took a few years for this to really shake out but it is for the better. It is also why you see a standalone rescue course in the US avalanche education.

    I usually explain the avalanche problem as having two components: planning around a known problem and sifting through enough information to know the problem (type, distribution, and likelihood). In most areas there are pro forecasters and observers in the field synthesizing avalanche information and that is a difficult thing to do. An AIARE Rec1 course teaches a framework to apply the available information to plan a way to avoid the avalanche hazard. The AIARE Rec2 course is meant to take the next step and get into snow science, pit work, and forecasting on a slope scale based on information available. In my experience there are a lot of people that take an AIARE 1 as their "intro to the backcountry" when they would be better served getting out with a guide for some supervised backcountry skiing and structured learning on skinning techniques, self care, and preparation for the day when you don't have a lodge to duck into. Most of the students in an AIARE 2 are dialed and looking to dig deeper into the snow pack. AIARE 2s are usually a bit faster paced because students typically have seasons of backcountry experience and can move comfortably in the backcountry.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for the great feedback.

    How does the costal zones (BC or even Gaspe in the Atlantic) compare to the transitional regions or continental region snowpack?

    I do understand that the snowpack tends to be denser and more wet in those costal areas, so would it be more on the opposite side of the spectrum and still not provide as much variety in the challenges that the avalanche problem poses?

  10. #10
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    Jason4 is spot on with the advice. You're the ideal candidate for a hut-based rec 1 if you can swing it. I'm no doubt biased, but I think hut-based is just a superior format for learning about operating in the bc. Getting that much hands on time with guides to ask questions and walk through terrain is immense.

    I also think there's some merit re:trying to find a class in a transitional snowpack.

    Don't know if Rob is teaching a hut-based L1, but he is working on a new product I've talked with him a bit about that is focused on skills-building over a whole season. https://www.vettamountainguides.com/...-working-group

    To add the the AST/AIARE confusion -- AIARE is just one organization that provides a curriculum that meets A3 guidelines. There are many top-notch programs that are not part of AIARE that are worth considering. Full listing here: https://avalanche.org/avalanche-cour...urse-providers

  11. #11
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    Jan 2017
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    Seattle, WA
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    AST Level 1 vs. AIARE Level 1

    I will +1 that I also think a transitional snowpack is the ideal place to learn avy skills. As are places you are likely to ski.

    I am really looking forward to taking an Avy 2 in JH or Rogers Pass area. Both areas with very complex committing terrain that I want to ski and with an intermountain pack. Learning more about the snow there would be very valuable.

    Coastal snowpacks are probably the worst for learning about snow science (because the layers in a pit are hard to pull apart and get any results on), but are better for learning about decision making than shallow continental snowpacks where the answer is basically donít ski anything above 30*. Intermountain is the best of both worlds IMO.

    Coastal the focus on decision making is a lot on storm snow layers and wind slabs and the terrain traps that you can get pulled into, especially on the edge you talk a lot about D1/D2s and how they can pull you over a cliff vs burying you. But the weather can be real shit for learning too, itís hard to plan in advance out here. Continental has a heavy focus on windslab, persistent weak layers, snow near rocks and connected terrain propagation (where weak layers will be shallower), but the weather will almost always be good for learning.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Posts
    127
    Tons of useful info in here, as I'm also interested in finally getting some formal education this winter. I think my group is coming at this from a similar perspective as EstoBum; late spring mt washington trips, a few trips to france skiing with guides in glaciated terrain, lots of pre-chairlift resort touring laps, etc.

    I know a few folks mentioned NOT to pursue a course in NH and try and get somewhere with potentially better weather and snowpack for learning, but if something based in the presidentials is the only thing that's really on the table logistically, are there any preferred ops to work with? East Coast Avalanche Education looks like most/all of the instructors have an extensive skiing background aside from just teaching snow safety courses. Should I be looking at any other operations? Any particular instructors anyone has worked with and had notable experiences, good or bad?

  13. #13
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    Nov 2003
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    Colorado
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    I told a colleague about this posting. He has intimate knowledge of both courses, as he has taught both AIARE and AST1 courses. He is what he sent me.

    From the respective web sites
    At the end of the AIARE 1 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 Risk Management Framework to make terrain choices in a group setting.
    • Demonstrate effective companion rescue.

    AST 1

    What you will learn:
    • Avalanche formation and release.
    • How to identify avalanche terrain.
    • The basics of trip planning.
    • How to use the avalanche forecast to mitigate your avalanche risk.
    • Using appropriate travel techniques in avalanche terrain.
    • Intro to companion rescue.

    Both are good first courses for recreationalists. Because both use the local bulletin as part of the decision making process, I'd recommend the AIARE course for someone who mostly ski's in the US.
    "True love is much easier to find with a helicopter"

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