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Remember the good old days when our primary concern was whether or not it will be a good snow year? (Cue collective sigh.) Now, as COVID-19 cases spike and resorts are rolling out their reservations policies and social distancing strategies, many people are looking to the backcountry for their winter escape. (Experts estimate backcountry use will rise as much as 300% this winter—an enormous and unprecedented jump—and gear will likely sell out.)
This, of course, comes with its own set of concerns. Will people be able to get the education they need to stay safe? Will people be able get the education they need to keep others safe? Backcountry skiing, after all, is not an every-woman-for-herself endeavor. Our actions in the backcountry affect everyone else out there.
Let’s start with a caveat that no one should go into the backcountry without a Level 1 AIARE avalanche course under his or her belt. For those who haven’t signed up yet, do it now. For those who want to sign up but the courses near you are already full, stay tuned—AIARE is currently working hard to expand programming to accommodate the surge in demand. (Read more about which course is best for you.)
For those who have their Level 1 certification and would like to continue their education, or who would like to learn the basics before they enroll in a Level 1 course, here are some easy online options to further your learning.
The Outdoor Adventure Club has live 90-minute Zoom classes taught by certified instructors, which means you can ask questions and get answers in real time. These courses are perfect preparation for Level 1 and 2 courses, as well as great refreshers. Nonmembers pay $20 per class, or you can get a six-month subscription for unlimited courses for $100. Topics include the nine avalanche types, how to define safety margins, and using CalTopo with defined margins from the avalanche advisory.
Avalanche Canada has free online learning that, while slightly clunky to navigate, is pithy with quality content. Learn how avalanches form, how to trip-plan, how to reduce risk in the field, and more.
AIRE has an online learning portal that serves as the online portion of your AIARE Level 1 course. It goes over the topics you’ll be learning more about in the course, and provides a valuable overview of backcountry safety as a whole. It also quizzes you along the way to make sure you were paying attention.
Regional avalanche centers typically host these formerly live events to help locals make safer decisions in the backcountry. This winter, all the workshops are virtual, so anyone anywhere can join. summer brain for making safer decisions in avalanche terrain. Registration costs vary on the workshop. Here are the dates of each region’s workshops:
Northwest—NSAW: Oct. 20, 22, 27, 29
Wyoming—WYSAW: Oct. 23 & 24
Colorado—CSAW: Oct. 14, 15, 16
Utah—USAW: Nov. 10, 11, 12
Central Oregon—BendSaw: Nov. 14th
Flathead—NRSAW: Nov. 12-14
Southcentral Alaska—SAAW: Nov. 6
Montana—MSUSAW: Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23
Stay safe and have fun out there—and remember we’re all in this together.