AIARE Level 1 Course Review

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Zerrpppppp, click. Zerrrrpppp click. Zerrrrpppp click. My legs sound robotic as they slide across the skin track on their makeshift skis. The only thing that reminds me that I’m human is my heavy breathing. “Phew this most certainly is killer,” I huff as make my way up, slowly, towards what I hope is the top of the ridge. We had taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on a steep skin track through some rather dense trees. “I think I see the main path!” My friend shouts back. Finally the long slog is over, but the downhill has yet to really burn my legs into submission. Regardless of my physical state I’m elated. The mid-day sun stretches out brilliantly in the sky illuminating the stunning landscape as I sit on the top of the ridge taking it all in. Welcome back, girl! You’re home.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

Smashing up one difficult skin track

Previous Experience Doesn’t Equal an Education

Ever since I moved to Colorado I wanted to get back into backcountry snowboarding. I had done it sporadically back in Tahoe nearly 10 years ago. My big concern over the past several years was should I get a formal education? Let’s be honest – the price tag for a 3-day course is pretty steep, couldn’t I just learn on my own?

Sure, I had the proper safety gear and knew how to use it. I’ve practiced companion rescues where you go and find a beacon buried in the snow. Furthermore, I have previous knowledge of the types of snow, avalanche problems and what aspects of a mountain face avalanches are likely to occur. All of this knowledge I found by researching over the internet and tagging along with my brother a couple of times while he was out in the backcountry filming.  But was I about to pretend that I had the right information to make sound judgement calls in one of the most dangerous avalanche environments in the country? Absolutely not.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

Skinning across a frozen Lake Haiyaha

 

Here’s the thing with Colorado – we have a very dangerous snowpack. Whereas the Sierra Nevadas of Lake Tahoe, typically don’t. Even with previous experience I’m a liability in a group if I don’t have the correct training to do the job. So I sucked it up and signed up for a course with the Colorado Mountain School or CMS.

Why Take an Avalanche Course?

Aside from the obvious, you-will-learn-about-avalanche-safety, there are a few other reasons why a course like this is worth it. First and foremost, it’s a measure of your knowledge. My good friend has simply told me his group that he tours with won’t allow anyone they don’t know on their tour without this type of education. Why? Simple. You know what they  have learned – essentially having taken the course you have an expected level of knowledge. It’s a measuring tool. Your friend can teach you CPR on a Friday night, but if you don’t take the class you lack the certification that is recognized by others that shows you know CPR. Get what I’m saying?

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

Digging pits to analyze the snowpack

 

A second important reason to take an AIARE course is that you’re a liability if you think you can rely on your friends to “take care of you” in the backcountry. What if he or she gets buried and there you have no knowledge base to help them. Furthermore, being out in the backcountry requires group decision making. If you’re a part of the group, you better have enough know-how to understand the risks of your choices.

Who Should Take this Course?

The course is designed specifically for backcountry ski and snowboarders. It is possible to complete this course with snowshoes and a pair of skis on your back – Squirrel did it this way, but I won’t sugar coat it – this ups the difficulty factor a bit.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

Group decision making is key to safe choices in the backcountry

Both Squirrel and I were surprised to find that this course is designed essentially for backcountry skiers and boarders. On the one hand, it makes sense, who in their right mind would just head straight up 30 degree slope on snowshoes? I’ll admit – I’ve done it before, and ya, it sucked. That’s like walking up a hill as steep as your staircase in the snow. Not a good time. However, that person might switchback up that slope and not even know they were in a danger zone. We’ve seen quite a few snowshoers walk right through the carnage of a slide and not even bat an eye.  Also crazy.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

No matter how you like to enjoy the backcountry in the winter avalanche know-how will help you make smart decisions. Know your terrain and what the dangers could be.

If you snowshoe in mountainous regions or you plan on getting into winter mountaineering at the very least attend a seminar about the avalanche dangers and snow pack in your local area. Most of these seminars are free and extremely helpful. Lastly, if you snowmobile absolutely find a course that trains you on your sled. Snowmobiles are the number one cause of avalanche related incidents in the country. Just because you’re on a machine doesn’t make you immune.

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Rompin’ and stompin’ sleds with my brother

For information on courses near you check out the AIARE website.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review – Why I chose Colorado Mountain School

The CMS was the only outfit near me that offered a split course. In other words, the classroom portion was split over a couple of evenings instead of being an all day affair so there was no need to miss a day of work. In hindsight, I should have done a 3 day course to make my life a little less stressful, but alas, I’m stubborn with this sort of thing.

AIARE Level 1 Course Review

Classroom time isn’t always the most exciting things for an outdoor nerd – but it doesn’t have to suck!

One rather awesome plus to the CMS course, which it doesn’t sound like every outfit does, is that the last field day you plan and execute your own tour. Not only does this allow you to flex out your new found skills, but it also provides an opportunity to get out there and have a little fun.

Get Educated and Tour

Backcountry touring is a whole new way to discover the outdoors. I can’t think of a better workout in the winter than to be outside in the backcountry, snowboard under foot. If you are looking for more than in-resort snowboarding, the backcountry presents a new set of challenges. The reward is well worth the thigh burn! There’s no reason to be so scared of avalanches it deters you from getting outside in the winter, just be smart, get educated.

Backcountry touring, mountaineering, and snowshoeing are fun endeavors, but avalanches are serious business. Learn about why an AIARE Level 1 is a priceless investment for your safety. An in depth review of AIARE Level 1 with the Colorado Mountain School.

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23 thoughts on “AIARE Level 1 Course Review

  1. Nicole Anderson

    I agree that this type of course is definitely worth the investment of time and money. Especially if it helps potentially save lives when things go wrong and these skills and knowledge matter the most. Really great post to promote the importance of this.

    Reply
  2. Joanna

    I didn’t hear about this type of courses before but after reading your article I realise how important the Aiare course is. You are right, you can’t go on a snowy mountain without any avalanche training. I remember when I was hiking a mountain in Peru when an avalanche occurred on the other side of the valley. Even if it didn’t threaten us, it was still scary to see the force of nature.

    Reply
    1. foxintheforest Post author

      That’s still super scary! I haven’t seen a natural avalanche occur in front of me before – I hope I don’t! They are much scarier than people realize I think. It shouldn’t scare you from going into the wild, but being aware of dangers and how to avoid them should be on everyone’s mind when out in the winter .:)

      Reply
  3. Travellinn

    I agree, it is very important with a course like this. I did many years back, and should really repeat it. But please be careful as well, unfortunately I’ve learned the hard way. Enjoy your skiing! 🙂

    Reply
    1. foxintheforest Post author

      Oh a course doesn’t guarantee your safety – it just helps out A LOT. Having been out both with and without the course, I’d say I’m a lot more comfortable having taken the class. There are a lot of refresher courses out there that are offered for free in my neighborhood – they suggest taking one at the beginning of each season to freshen up your skills.

      Reply
  4. Sara - I do what I want to

    I never thought about this type of course, might be because I’m a summer person and have never had a good experience with snow (not that I’ve seen much) but it makes total sense if you compare it to other type of sports such as scuba diving. If you want to be safe underwater then you’ll take one of the many certificates that can guarantee your chances of survival in case something happens, then… There must be something similar if you are into snow sports: HERE IT IS!!

    Reply
    1. foxintheforest Post author

      Sara – that’s a great analogy! It’s a LOT like scuba diving (something I have on my list to get certified for this year). Underwater exploration just sounds so fun! I’ve snorkeled tons, but I’ve always been jealous of those who get to dive deeper!

      Reply
  5. The Rimsky Project

    I’ve actually never even been skiing but it’s on my bucket list. After reading your experience. I’d actually love to do a course like this if I can manage it! I’m trying to work on my sporty and adventurous side hehe. Thanks for all the info!

    Reply
    1. foxintheforest Post author

      You should DEFINITELY try skiing! I’d recommend starting in a resort first – and you won’t need this class for that :). I’m a huge proponent of getting in touch with your sporty/adventurous side! I’ve grown so much as a person by participating in outdoor sports. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences!

      Reply
  6. Serena

    Great post. I love that it isn’t simply a wanderlusty, destination focused one – it’s practical and could potentially be lifesaving!

    Reply
  7. Amber

    Wow. Go you! I’m a hardcore hiker but the work to go into cross country snowboarding; that is intense! Great for you learning all about avalanche saftey too!you guys must have a ton of snow out there!

    Reply
  8. Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld

    I haven’t try snowboarding so far, but it’s something I would definitely want to learn to do someday. The Avalanche course it’s very important in my opinion, not only for people who snowboarding but also for everyone else who goes to the mountain in the winter. There is actually a very good movie made about it, you may have heard of it, it’s called “Know before you go”.

    Reply
    1. foxintheforest Post author

      Absolutely Bilyana! It’s just important to be aware of risks and know how to spot and analyze the dangers. I hope you get to try snowboarding one day. It takes a minute to figure out – but once you do you can pretty much get down any run!

      Reply
  9. Jessica

    Taking the course is such a good idea! The back country looks beautiful. Your photo of the digging pit really surprised me. You don’t really realize just how deep the snow is!

    Reply
  10. Stephanie Frias

    This was such as refreshing read…literally, we are melting over here in Coastal Ecuador right now. We are really dreaming of snow! I would love to take a class like this to become more informed about the risks of snow covered terrain, especially since we will be venturing to a few high altitude areas soon! I feel like I should at least google some basic knowledge before we head out!

    Reply

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