The American Avalanche Association together with avalanche educators has revised the guidelines for safety training in the USA. Beginning with the 2017-18 season there will be different course progressions for recreational riders and professionals. The new recreational courses are still called Level-1 and Level-2 but the material has been revised. Additionally, there is a new one day Avalanche Rescue course. The new progression offers recreational riders more focus on the skills that they need to stay safe.
The culture of backcountry riding has changed to the degree that many folks don’t want to go out with a partner who hasn’t completed an introductory avalanche course. There is some evidence to show that avalanche education has made an impact on the number of accidental deaths. Fatalities seem to be remaining steady even as many more people travel in the backcountry. How much education is enough to become a safer rider? If a three day course improves your chances of making good decisions will six days of training make you twice as safe?
The AIARE Instructors I work with are constantly tweaking the outline of the introductory course to get the most out of the 24-hours we have with the students. In our post course debriefings we often discuss students’ readiness to travel safely in avalanche terrain; we find that very few students have enough prior backcountry experience to master all the needed companion rescue and trip planning skills presented in an introductory course. CMS has offered the AIARE Level-2 avalanche course. It was a 4-day exploration of the snowpack with lots of pit digging, graphs and snow science. It was an experience well suited for guides and patrollers but only a tenth of the recreational riders who took an introductory avalanche course came back for Level-2.
Companion rescue and safe travel techniques are not facts that can be memorized; they are skills like rock-climbing or playing the piano. Skill based activities improve continually with practice and coaching time.
The new Avalanche Rescue course is a full-day getting coached on locating avalanche victims and exploring more complex rescue scenarios. It is a perfect way to refresh and expand on skills from an avalanche introductory course. It should become the new training benchmark for anyone who wants to be considered a “good backcountry partner”. It’s also the prerequisite for taking a Rec-2 course or any professional avalanche training.
The Rec-2 class is still going to have students digging pits and beginning to test snow stability (like the former Level-2 course). However, this redesigned course will spend more time on planning tours and terrain selection and less time on the details of professional standards for making log book entries. If your crew is headed out for a multi-day hut trip or you want to start testing your backcountry chops on steep and challenging terrain Rec-2 is the course to get the skills you need for those adventures.
CMS Guide: Thomas White