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How to Choose an Avy Course

You want to explore the backcountry. But first you need to take an avalanche awareness class. But how do you find a good one? For starters, don’t Google “avalanche education.” Here are six other tips from Dale Atkins, of the Alpine Rescue Team and Recco.

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Just for fun, we searched for “avalanche education” on Google. Among other things, we found this Yahoo Groups, supposedly discussing avy education, where members of the group are quoted as saying things like “We have come a long way from being the First Batch of Rajiv Gandhi University to being the most Jovial yet Responsible,” and “A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.” Um, Okay. We decided to look for a more knowledgeable expert, and that’s how we found Dale Atkins, who’s worked for nearly 30 years as an avalanche educator. He co-authored the original U.S. avalanche education guidelines for the American Avalanche Association. Here are Dale’s six tips on picking an avalanche course.

1. Start in the Kiddie Pool: How much do you already know about avalanches? Not much? Then attend several short (one to two hour) avalanche awareness talks before you sign up for a level 1 course. Starting immediately with a level 1 course is like a newbie swimmer jumping into the deep end of the pool.

2. Do Your Homework: Visit the websites for the American Avalanche Association and American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education to learn about recommended course content. 

3. Find the Snow Nerds: Talk to friends and local snow nerds to learn about specific courses. Seek programs that use instructors who not only have many years of experience in avalanche terrain, but who like to do the things you like to do. A fun-hogging-big-mountain-wannabe rider will do better in a program taught by skiers or snowboarders. Likewise, a high-horse-powered-amped sledder will learn more from a course taught by snowmobilers. Let your interests guide your selection.

4.Dip into the Savings Account: More expensive courses are worth the extra money. These courses use more experienced instructors who know how to convey the right information.

5. Keep it Real: Your long-term ambitions may be to tackle Turnagain Pass with your sled, but if you start in an avalanche program that is too advanced you will struggle to learn and slow down the class for others.

6. Go Skiing: Avalanche education is a process. Courses provide the rules, but skiing teaches the exceptions. Taking a class is only a fraction of that process.

 Helpful sites to check out