AIARE 1: Should I Take an Avalanche Course?

If you want to explore the backcountry snow more, then yes you probably should take an avalanche course and the AIARE 1 is a good place to start. This is an overview of my experience that may help other beginner mountaineers decide if the AIARE 1 course is something they need.

This post does not cover everything you need to know to get outdoors. It does not review the content of the avalanche education I learned – it’s just my thoughts on my journey thus far after taking my first avalanche course, but you will need to take your own AIARE 1 course to fully comprehend it – remember though, it’s a continuing education process. 

The AIARE 1 course teaches you more than just how to read snow conditions and determine avalanche terrain and risks. It also teaches more of the basics of preparing and planning your winter adventures in the backcountry which is great to learn if you are new to it all.

avalance course training

Why I took AIARE 1

The short answer is I want to be more comfortable and confident when I head out into the backcountry in snow conditions. The idea of an avalanche terrifies me and I want my partners to have more trust in me.

Where I am at this point in my avalanche education & mountaineering journey

Prior to this avalanche course, I had zero official outdoor education training. I started exploring a little backcountry snow about two years ago in 2021 when I first learned ice climbing, mountaineering, and winter backcountry camping from my mentor, Chris Brinlee Jr. He had taken many outdoor education courses and with his years of experience climbing around the world, he was in a good position to mentor me. I went on to climb a dozen or so peaks in the Eastern Sierra that year including the CA 14ers, only two in snow conditions.

In 2022, I built on those skills and climbed my first WI5, my first mixed climb M5, my first couloir with just a female partner, my first women-only mountaineering trip, and climbed my first 6,000 m peak in Nepal, Mt Cholatse 6,423 m.

In 2023, I took on skiing as that was the final major component to alpinism I hadn’t really learned yet and decided it was time to finally start getting in my own outdoor education so I can be more comfortable and confident getting outdoors in snow conditions without relying on Chris or any other man actually. Although skiing terrifies the living bejeesus out of me and I don’t see myself attempting ski mountaineering without my experienced mentor-turned-alpine partner, there’s still something very empowering about getting out with an all-women group mountaineering and this course will help me feel safer about it.

So ultimately, I learned a lot from him and I continue to learn, but the one thing I always knew he was limited in teaching me was about avalanches – after all the days I’ve been out, the one thing I still know is that I know nothing about snow on my own. 

I believe the best people to learn from are those who have real-world experience and formal education training, not people who just read online which is why I felt now was a good time to take the AIARE 1 course. I simply need to learn and if you’re reading this, you probably do too.

Key takeaways from AIARE 1

Reading Avalanche Terrain and Conditions 

Stating the obvious, but the online portion of the AIARE 1 course actually teaches a lot before you even make it into the field with the guides. Although I feel like there is still so much to learn and it was a bit of information overload, it’s a good start.

Reading and Comprehending the Weather Forecast

If you’ve been following my journey for a while, you know I’m a huge advocate of checking the weather forecasts and understanding them. Granted, we’ve probably all made stupid decisions and gone out for a climb when we shouldn’t have, but winter and snow conditions are extremely different than Spring, Summer, and Fall hiking conditions which makes paying attention to the weather forecast that much more important.

I’ve learned that the mountains will always be there and if Mother Nature does not think it’s a good time to be out there… we need to listen. Mother Nature is a strong force not to be reckoned with.

Don’t get me wrong, it certainly sucks to forego your plans if the weather isn’t good, but when you ignore it while exploring the backcountry snow, it can literally be the difference between life and death.

Eastern Sierra Avalanche Forecast is a great local resource for California adventurers venturing into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Mapping Routes with Caltopo

Maps are fun! & so is not getting lost. Simple as that.

Breakdown of the AIARE 1 course structure with Golden State Guiding

  • Pre-course learning: There is an online education portion of the course on AIARE that you need to take before your course on-site.
  • Day 1: Avalanche Rescue – We spent the day learning how to use our beacons, probes, and shovels. These are very important skills to have in the backcountry and give me confidence in locating someone that is buried. Now that I’ve been through this, I realize the importance of having my adventure partners go through the same training… so that in case something happens to me *knocks on wood* they can find me too. I highly recommend learning this and I’d also be curious to take the full Avalanche Rescue one-day course next season if any of my partners want to join me.
  • Day 2: Guides lead the class in the backcountry – We broke off into smaller teams of 5-6 and did a little backcountry skiing in Mammoth Lakes, learned about the snow conditions along the way, and build a snow pit to learn more about the layers of snow. Personally, I struggled with my first backcountry ski down the Tele Bowl but I did ok with the rest of the skiing during this course.
  • Day 3: Students take the lead – The last day was similar to the previous day, except we had to plan and lead everything while our guide watched over and helped us along the way to make sure we were doing everything right. But it was fun to create a route, research the weather, and discuss trip options with our group. 

I really enjoyed taking my course with Golden State Guiding and recommend them if you’re looking to further your outdoor education or even just want to hire a guide for Eastern Sierra trips you aren’t comfortable with going out on your own. Our guides, Jan Czyzewski, Sammy Rubinm, and Nick Lozica were all extremely knowledgeable, accommodating, and friendly, but a huge shoutout to Jan for making me feel more comfortable as a beginner skier out there.

Avalanche and snow travel gear:

Places to stay near Mammoth Lakes, CA

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