Choosing an Avalanche Class

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Just a quick note before we head out backcountry skiing this morning (yeah!). It’s been a few years since I took my level one avalanche class. You can never know enough about avalanches, so I’ve been wanting to take my level two for a while.

Unfortunately it is hard to squeeze a four day class in with a full college schedule. I needed a class that was held during winter break, which is pretty early season for most avalanche courses. As I’m returning to Colorado for the break, I spent some time trying to find one that would fit in my schedule there. There’s also the advantage of the notoriously dangerous Colorado snowpack. Better to have a bunch of depth hoar and sun crusts to study than a five foot layer of dense cement with some powder on top.

I decided to go with Crested Butte Mountain Guides, on their course that starts on the 16th. Based in Crested Butte, Colorado, they’re right in the thick of our hairball snowpack, and have to make decisions every day based on analysis. Thus, I’m excited to get some new avalanche knowledge from the core, and hopefully become a safer backcountry skier. I’ll do a few trip reports during the course to let you all know how it goes. Should be interesting. It’s the one time I’m actually hoping the snowpack is more scary than good (just kidding). For more info about avy courses, see AIARE.


14 Responses to “Choosing an Avalanche Class”

  1. David December 12th, 2010 4:38 am

    Another option for those who can’t get time during the northern hemishere season is the Avi1 & Avi 2 courses with the Otago Polytechnic on the South Island of New Zealand. The courses are fully accredited and in line with the Canadian curriculum.

    I did my pro level Avi 1 with them and they are very good.

    Just another option for those of you who wish to travel and learn. Google Otago Polytechinic avalanche.

  2. Mike Bromberg December 12th, 2010 10:44 am

    Good timing with this segment
    Looking forward to getting out with you.

  3. Greg Louie December 12th, 2010 12:26 pm

    More like five feet of dense cement with running water on top today. You’re lucky you’re in Colorado!

  4. alex December 12th, 2010 5:21 pm

    Sounds that you’re all set, Louie.

    Another option for some to consider is to inquire with local guide outfits about customizing a course from a schedule or content perspective.
    When I was researching the Level II, our local shop was willing to run a course if we had a certain number to commit.

    Additionally, if the certification is of less interest than knowledge, (i.e. not for professional purposes) you can discuss adjusting the content to the interests of your group.

    Food for thought.

  5. sarah December 12th, 2010 6:00 pm

    Check out for course providers who are running avalanche courses that meet the American Avalanche Association guidelines.
    It’s a great resource to find course providers throughout the U.S. who are teaching avalanche courses to the national guidelines.

  6. Jayson Simons-Jones December 12th, 2010 7:32 pm


    Looking forward to the course, and thanks for choosing Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Our long history and great reputation of teaching quality AIARE Avalanche Courses got a great big feature write-up in today’s (Sunday) NY Times Travel / Ski Guide Section:

    We are also happy at CBMG to customize and privatize a L1, L2 or Refresher Avy Course for people at their schedule and amongst their group if they want…just 4 people minimum needed…same cost as normal courses.

    -Jayson Simons-Jones

  7. Andrew December 13th, 2010 11:06 am

    Hey Louie,

    Last spring I spent a week in the Selkirks with Crested Butte guide Steve Banks. If he’s any example of the rest of their guides I’m sure their Avi 2 course will be excellent.

  8. Jim December 13th, 2010 12:44 pm

    Thank you for post on technique, knowledge and resources for obtaining instruction. (more please) Its good to balance knowledge with gear to avoid being a gearhead with no knowledge.

  9. Profreshional80 December 13th, 2010 3:12 pm

    Go north to US north/Canadian Rockies or Alaska for avalanche training. The maritime (e.g. Sierra Nevada) climate is a marginal solution for learning about a complex snowpack, especially given that the guides are usually compelled to travel in terrain determined by the lowest common denominator (mobility-wise) in your group…a showshoe-equipped `biler or languishing split-boarder so you likely won’t get into high/north maritime conditions that can be dangerous and variable. Moreover, like many lucky California mountaineers, the ski/avy guides in those areas are blessed with warm and sunny conditions throughout the year (despite crest winds and the feared but rare “Pineapple Express”) and while this is often considered a dent in their credibility in bad weather, one should envy the relatively safe ski conditions in which they have situated themselves….but ultimately these factors lessen the impact of the instruction. If you have an option, head to a Canadian CAA/US North Rockies AAI or an Alaskan program that will show you a variable snowpack, taught by instructors with a career spent in marginal weather conditions and a dangerous snowpack. If you can, go mid-January through late-February, and look for a place that is COLD with at least a somewhat deep (>180cm) variable snowpack so you can really get into the importance of terrain, wind transport, precip, probing your pit location, layer ID, compression tests, etc. Nothing worse than digging to the ground every time through 100cm of facetty fluff or worse yet, digging through 6 feet of Sierra cement to observe that it is, indeed after much labor, cement through and through. That said, Crested Butte is probably not a bad choice (high-cold-decent snowpack) and every skier/climber I’ve met from there has been solid.

  10. pitts December 14th, 2010 1:48 pm

    I haven’t taken a class yet, but I hope to this winter. I’m hoping to take a class as close as possible to where I’ll be skiing. That makes sense to me! I may take multiple classes in different areas (Berthoud Pass, Silvertion, CB, etc) so i get insights from local experts about their terrain and experiences

  11. Lou December 14th, 2010 2:00 pm

    Pitts, perfect!

  12. Jayson Simons-Jones December 14th, 2010 7:24 pm


    CBMG offers courses all year in Crested Butte, and we are also the only permitted ski guide operation at Berthoud Pass & Monarch Pass as well… consider us as we offer a great course in a variety of venues….

    All our Course Leaders are AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides or IFMGA Guides and, we all have at sometime, or still do, work as Avalanche Forecasters in Crested Butte, Ski Patrol, snowcat ski guides, ski touring guides and the like. If has to do with snow or skiing in a professional aspect in the Crested Butte region, you can bet our guides are involved…

    Just some food for thought when considering the multitude of course offerings on the market today, and everyone’s comments above all make great reasoning….interesting snow pack and snow climate, many venues, etc….

  13. Bryan January 3rd, 2012 3:10 pm

    Just took an AIARE avalanche course in Oregon and got a lot out of it. I’ve been skiing for quite awhile and finally decided to gain some formal knowledge. Three Sisters Backcountry had great instructors, great knowledge, and great locations. We spent two nights in their yurts below Tam McArthur Rim near Sisters, OR.

    Check out for a video report!

  14. Michelle July 27th, 2013 10:32 pm

    Thanks for the post on your technique and resources. I really appreciate it. Good luck on getting more instructions. I hopes it all pans out!

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