An avalanche course will help you recognize avalanche terrain and make good decisions while backcountry skiing in it.
But that’s not all. Beyond those very essential components, you’ll enjoy the camaraderie of being with a group of like-minded people, the mentorship of an expert and an increase in confidence, to name a few. Read on for the top five reasons to take an avalanche course.
One of the most obvious reasons you may choose to take an avalanche course is to help you learn more about these natural phenomena, how to avoid being caught in one and what the rescue procedures are if someone is caught in an avalanche. I think the biggest part of this equation is the "how to avoid getting caught" part. While avalanche rescue and avalanche safety gear are very important, especially if you know how to use it, I find the not getting caught part to be our first line of defense out there. Rescue is a last ditch effort if we made a mistake, not a preventative measure. With all that said, a recreational level 1 course will help you learn how to identify avalanche terrain, read the avalanche forecast, look for signs of instability in the snow and strategize your day based on this information so that you can make your best effort not to get caught in avalanches. If you are a backcountry skier these skills are foundational.
Many backcountry skiers who haven't taken an avalanche course show hesitancy to leave their well-known, well-traveled touring areas near home, but wish they knew how to travel outside these spots. While this hesitancy is founded in good judgment regarding one's skill level, an avalanche course will help you build the foundational planning skills to feel confident exploring new areas while managing your risk. One of the most beautiful parts of backcountry skiing for me is the freedom to travel off the beaten path, find untouched snow in inspiring places and find reward in all the work that went into getting to that place. The confidence to travel to that untouched snow, and off those beaten paths, comes from education, humility and a desire to continue learning. Good educational foundations will help you find the confidence to manage risk in the mountains and grow from every experience you have out there.
One of the great things about an avalanche course is it is an opportunity for three days of mentorship in the backcountry with an expert. While there is a curriculum we are following, I find that often the richest parts of these courses come from the questions asked throughout and the ensuing conversation that develops around them. The old adage that you get out of it what you put into it is very true of any guided education course and I encourage someone taking their first course to have a list of questions that they have been stewing on ready to go for when the moment arises. Some questions may be answered through different lessons, but if they aren't guides are happy to share their knowledge and help create understanding.
4. Meet New Partners
A really cool outcome I see in a lot of my avalanche courses I teach is that people often end up skiing with each other afterwards. Many students come from similar areas, have similar levels of experience and are eager to practice their new skills. This leads to a sort of community forming over the three days and in the end a lot of people walk away with new backcountry skiing partners that they know have the same level of training as them.
5. Explore New Terrain
Taking a course in your home area is an opportunity to explore new places under the mentorship of a guide, as well as see new trailheads and ski runs nearby you didn't know existed. On the flipside of this, traveling to a new area for a course will give an opportunity to look at a place you've wanted to go to or learn more about. This said I do recommend taking a course at least in the same state as where you ski most often so you can gain knowledge on the local avalanche conditions and problems as these change depending where you are in the world.
Go with KMAC Guides
Since 1987 KMAC has been local to Estes Park and those of us who are full time staff are also year round residents of the town. Rocky Mountain National Park is our backyard, where we work, and most importantly it is our personal playground. I find the depth of knowledge of the local area that this team has to be outstanding, which in return provides an exceptional experience for our guests. The history of KMAC is one of education and we take extra care to select our guides based on their background of diverse educational skills. This background in education coupled with local knowledge helps create a really positive course experience in a fantastic venue.
Alongside this emphasis on education we have partnered with the Silverton Avalanche School (SAS) to provide the curriculum which our courses follow. SAS, at 60 years old this year is the oldest avalanche school in the country, located in what locals call "the avalanche center of the universe" Their knowledge and expertise has led to a curriculum which we believe in and are happy to bring to our students.
For those unfamiliar with avalanche course standards, the organization that provides the guidelines for all avalanche curricula is the American Avalanche Association (AAA). Under AAA guidelines there are several certified providers of curriculum, the most popular of these being the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE). SAS is among one of the providers certified under the AAA and their courses have reciprocity with the other certified providers. So if you are choosing an avalanche course, be sure to pick one that is AAA approved.
Learn more or sign up for an avalanche course
We would love to have you join us in our hometown to begin the foundations of your backcountry skiing career. We have openings in our February 10-12 and March 3-5 Recreational Level 1 courses if you would like to make the leap! Learn more about avalanche education with Kent Mountain Adventure Center.