At Outdoor Project, we couldn’t be more excited about spending time in the backcountry during the winter and spring months. The solitude of the winter mountain environment is alluring, and who doesn’t love fresh powder and smooth corn? But with the draw to spending time in winter backcountry terrain comes significant risk, regardless of whether you are ski touring, split-boarding, mountaineering or snowshoeing.
With the popularity of winter backcountry exploration growing, avalanche awareness and training couldn’t be more critical to help reduce risks and equip folks with the knowledge and tools to make safe decisions. It is equally important to have the training to be able to respond in the critical minutes following an avalanche scenario. Unfortunately, people die each year engaging in backcountry winter activities from avalanches. Although risks cannot always be fully eliminated, we believe they can be mitigated with proper training and knowledge. It all leads to making informed backcountry travel decisions, which sometimes means not going out at all.
Fortunately, there are multiple outfits and organizations across all major U.S. mountain regions and in some cities that are certified by the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) to provide in-depth courses on avalanche safety and training. These courses educate participants on decision making, terrain and snow safety, snowpack stability, the impacts of weather, and how to use avalanche safety equipment including a beacon, shovel and probe. Canada has two similar organizations, called Avalanche Canada and Canadian Avalanche Association.
In addition to courses, regional avalanche bulletins and online postings can provide a thorough overview of local snowpack stability and information on the safety of backcountry conditions before you go during winter and early spring months. Not all mountain areas have local avalanche bulletins, but many do, and more are surfacing as backcountry recreation grows in popularity. Tracking these bulletins throughout the season to become familiar with instability hazards developing over time is one of the best measures one can take to stay informed. Please note that reading a bulletin does not replace the experience that is gained through learning in a hands-on course.
We cannot over emphasize how critical it is to obtain training from one of the many qualified organizations that offer courses before venturing out in the backcountry. To get you going, we’re providing a list of resources to find training providers and additional avalanche education information below. While this list is not exhaustive, it will help point you in the right direction. Thanks, and be safe out there!
AVALANCHE TRAINING COURSES + EDUCATION
REGIONAL AVALANCHE BULLETINS, ADVISORIES + OBSERVATIONS