How to Choose an Avalanche Safety Course: AIARE Courses Explained

Looking to learn about avalanche safety but don’t know where to start? It’s ok, avalanche courses can be a bit tricky to figure out. With so many options it’s difficult to know what’s best for you. That is why we’ve broken down the course types so you can choose the best avalanche safety course for your winter activity.

Avalanche Awareness Courses

Avalanche awareness courses generally touch on the basics of avalanche safety. Topics include basic terrain knowledge, slide types, decision making, and a round-up of safety gear. They are important not only for training but also because they discuss avalanche problems endemic to your local area. For example, areas that are far from the coasts tend to have different recurring avalanche problems than coastal areas.

These courses are perfect for anyone who is interested in learning the basics of avalanche safety. This is also a great course for those who took an AIARE course but want a refresher. Bonus: they are usually free. Check our local gear shops, mountain clubs, or avalanche safety centers for courses in your area.

How to choose an avalanche course

AIARE Approved Courses

In the US, AIARE is the standard training curriculum for avalanche safety. AIARE or American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education follows the recommended guidelines set forth by the American Avalanche Association. An AIARE course sets the bar here in the US for avalanche safety training. It’s widely recognized throughout the US and you should take a course from an AIARE-recognized professional if you are serious about getting educated. Starting this year, AIARE re-organized their courses, so here’s a look at the new layout.

AIARE Level One

The AIARE Level One course is designed to educate anyone on safe travel through avalanche terrain. Level One courses last at least three days and involve 24 hours of instruction time. There is typically a classroom and field component to the class.

AIARE Level 1 course

By the end of the course, students are able to perform a companion rescue, spot avalanche terrain in the field and make an observation report, understand decision-making framework and group dynamics, identify avalanche terrain, and develop a plan for travel in avalanche terrain.

These courses are designed for anyone, regardless of method of travel. If you are into a specific activity, be sure to sign up for a class that focuses on that activity, such as an AIARE Level One for backcountry skiers or an AIARE Level One for snowmobilers.

AIARE Level Two

A level two AIARE course used to be considered an entry-level professionals course, however that changed this year. The AIARE Two is another three-day course with 24 hours of instruction. This course goes more in-depth behind the science and reporting of avalanche hazards such as snow profiles, snow types, weather, and avalanche science. This class also covers how to create an avalanche forecast when there is no previous data to rely on as well as expanding upon group management.

The AIARE Level Two course is for more experienced backcountry travelers to hone in on their snow forecasting and group management skills. In order to take this course, you need an AAIRE Level One or equivalent, Avalanche Rescue Course, as well as at least one year of backcountry experience.

Which AIARE Course is right for me

Avalanche Rescue Course

This one-day course focuses on avalanche rescue or companion rescue. The course includes a hands-on scenario where students are responsible for conducting a rescue using a beacon, shovel, and probe.

The AIARE One course also covers this technique. However, this course is a prerequisite for a Level Two course, as well as professional courses. This is a great way for beginners and advanced backcountry enthusiasts to brush up on their rescue skills.

AIARE Pro Courses

The AIARE rolled out a new set of courses this year for the professional traveling in avalanche terrain. The Pro One course aims to cover essential skills in the workplace regarding avalanche assessment, teams, safety protocol, weather and field observations. This is a five-day course.

Avalanche safety course

The AIARE Pro Two course aims to build on the Pro One course. It includes how to submit and report professional observations, worker safety, and ISO 3100 data building. This course is a six-day course that requires two years of professional experience, Avalanche Rescue Course, and an AIARE Pro One certificate.

Avalanche safety is the keystone to safe winter travels. Taking a course not only helps you build a knowledge base, but it tells other winter enthusiasts that you are serious about staying safe. You may never need a professional level course. However, understanding the basics of avalanche safety ensures you will have the tools needed to make sound decisions on snow.

About the Author

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Meg Atteberry

Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.