By Lily Krass
With Alpine Trekkers (AKA “Day Wreckers”) strapped to my boots and a friend who “knew the area,” I ventured into the backcountry for the first time. Little did I know I’d be taking an AIARE Avy II course almost 6 years later.
Like most backcountry skiers, my introduction was made with limited knowledge of my surroundings. In laymen’s terms– I didn’t know jack shit. I was no expert but I was being careful. I followed the leader’s tracks closely, listened to what experienced backcountry skiers had to say, and began understanding basic best practices like skiing ‘one at a time.’ Plainly put, I was just thrilled to ski off the back of the resort when everything else was tracked out.
It was like this secret, a secret a lot of people were catching wind of.
But in reality, it’s no secret. In fact, it’s just knowledge and I was gaining more with each trip beyond the boundary. Soon enough I began to know where to go and when– all the while evaluating risk all along the way. In a nutshell, that’s what got me into Avy 1.
But Avy 1 is only baseline knowledge. It’s a great place to start but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a common misconception among backcountry skiers that Avy 2 is more like a science class. Turns out, all the finer details covered in the course (*as well as refreshing Avy I concepts) end up being crucial to proper risk management and terrain evaluation.
So I took the plunge. I shelled out some $700 bucks for a priceless education, a bunk in a remote yurt near Stevens Pass, and spent a weekend gaining Level 2 avalanche knowledge.
Fully immersed in the mountains surrounding Stevens Pass, Cascade Powder Guides offers a unique yurt-based approach to the AIARE curriculum. It’s all about the routine: eat, sleep, breathe snow. While most courses split up the classroom and field components, the yurt-based Avy course takes away the hurry-up-and-wait of getting in and out of vans, leading to better education and… better skiing.
Book a course here: Cascade Powder Guides
In Avy 1 students are encouraged to make observations about the surrounding terrain. Avy 2 is all about interpreting those observations and turning them into something useful. Level 2 relies heavily on field observations and finding the missing pieces to the ‘decision making’ puzzle. By taking Avy 2, backcountry enthusiasts quickly realize they’re working with a 1,000-piece instead of 100-piece puzzle.
“You control the terrain,” our instructors reminded us constantly over the four-day course, “It’s all up to you.”
At the end of the day, it’s easy get lazy with an Avy 1 cert hanging on the fridge but don’t let your education stop there. Take a Level 2. If you can, go with the full-immersion approach. The multiple day, non-stop exposure helps the information really stick. The new info, although intuitive in many aspects, breaks down the avy situation with much more attention to the nitty gritty– those small details that can ultimately save your life.
AIARE Level 2 Objectives:
• Advance understanding of mountain snowpack
• Advance rescue skills
• Improve decision making and terrain skills
• Introduce stability factors/checklist and other stability evaluation tools
• Add snow stability evaluation to hazard/risk management model
Find a AIAIRE Level 2 Course near you: Upcoming Public Avalanche Training Courses