Top 11 Avalanche Training Programs In The US

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Adventurers today want to exceed the limits, push the envelope, boldly go where none have gone before. Particularly in winter, the idea of exploring wide open snow fields, untainted by human contact, is alluring.

But there are risks associated with venturing out on uncharted snowfields, as the US Ski Team found out recently when 6 of its members decided to take an unscheduled run far from their usual training slopes. They were caught in an avalanche and two of them died before rescuers could dig them out. After the tragedy, trained mountaineers said the risk of avalanche in the area was particularly high because of unusually warm conditions that made the snowpack unstable. Sadly, the skiers did not have avalanche training and were unaware of the danger.

The American Institute For Avalanche Research And Education (AIARE) strives to give those who want to venture out into the wild the knowledge and resources they need to identify risks and take appropriate precautions. There training programs begin with Level I courses for beginners and continue through Level II for experienced adventurers and Level III for dedicated professionals.

The folks at Curbed Ski have put together a list of 11 training centers from Alaska to Maine that teach the AIARE Level I course, including one that is run by and focuses on women. Here they are in west to east order.

1. Alaska Avalanche School

Alaska Avalanche School offers a number of avalanche courses as well as new option for a hut-based trip at the Manitoba Cabin near Turnagain Pass in Southcentral Alaska. Cost: $425

2. Backcountry Babes

Backcountry Babes is one of the few women-specific options for avalanche education. Their Level 1 course is set in Anchorage, Alaska, but the San Francisco-based company organizes other trips across the Western United States and Canada. Cost: $375

3. Three Sisters Back Country

Three Sisters Back Country courses include two nights in a backncountry hut, but students provide their own meals. Snowmobiles are there to help with the portage in and out. Cost: $490

4. Cascade Powder Cats

Cascade Powder Cats offers yurt-based courses and ones starting from Leavenworth, Wash. Both courses include lodging and plenty of on-snow time. Cost: $475 to $495

5. Sierra Mountain Center

This course doesn’t have the amenities of some of the other trips, but Sierra Mountain Center will make you a reservation at a nearby environmental research center for your Eastern Sierra adventure. Cost: $395

6. Sawtooth Mountain Guides
Sadly, the dates for Sawtooth Mountain Guides‘ Williams Peak Hut avalanche course have come and gone for this year, but if you get four or five of your buddies together, you can schedule a private course, according to their website. Cost: $475

7. Peak Mountain Guides
This hut-based course adds a fourth day for even more time to practice what you’ve learned. Peak Mountain Guides also limits enrollment to only six students so everyone gets personalized treatment. San Juan Mountain Guides offers a nearly identical trip the next weekend. Cost: $699

8. Irwin Guides
Crested Butte-based Irwin Guides uses the well-appointed Maroon Hut in Gothic, Colo., for this three-day course. Cost: $550

9. Aspen Alpine Guides.
Aspen Alpine Guides uses the Sangree M. Froelicher Hut in the popular 10th Mountain Division Hut System for this three-day course, giving you hands-on training in a back country destination you’ll probably want to visit again. Cost: $375

10. Petra Cliffs Mountaineering School
Petra Cliffs conducts a typical three-day avalanche course but also lets students add on a day or two of guided skiing for extra practice. Cost: $355 plus $115 per extra day.

11. Acadia Mountain Guides
Acadia Mountain Guides offers courses in Maine and New Hampshire in addition to a Level 1 class and ski trip to the Chic-Choc Mountains in Quebec, Canada. Cost: $295 to $700

So before you set off into the deepest back country looking for the most pristine, untrammeled snowfields in North America, invest first in some practical education so you will know what equipment you need, how to stay safe, and what to do in case of emergency.

After all, getting home is just as important as going off on your grand back country adventure.

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Photos: AIARE

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