Washington AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Our AIARE 1 Avalanche Course is a program features two full days in the field and an online course built by Blackbird Mountain Guides. It provides a foundation for assessing and managing avalanche hazard as well as finding the best turns in the backcountry! This program will be your foundation as you progress to bigger tours, higher peaks and objectives in the greater ranges of the world. By understanding the dangers that exist, how to avoid them, and where to find high quality snow, you'll be ready for some great days in the backcountry! We offer options at Mount Baker or Snoqualmie Pass.
Blackbird's unique benefits over other avalanche courses include:
- Flexibility for your busy lifestyle. Say goodbye to taking off work or missing a great ski day to sit in a classroom. You get the coursework done at your own pace before the field work starts!
- Excellent Online Content. Our online course includes content curated by our expert staff and a live webinar with a Blackbird Avalanche Course Leader.
- Access to the lessons after the course. Everyone comes out of traditional avalanche courses feeling full of knowledge, but two weeks later they begin scratching their heads, wondering what they had discussed and learned during their course. With the Blackbird A1, you always have access to the online program to review the lessons whenever you feel the need to brush up.
- Top notch AIARE Avalanche Course Leaders. Our course leaders are some of Washington's most experienced snow experts and instructors. We have lived and breathed the Mt Baker snowpack (thankfully not literally) and have years of experience guiding, performing avalanche control at Class A ski resorts and instructing courses.
This is not a “first-time backcountry skiing course.” If this is your first time backcountry skiing, please visit Intro to Backcountry. We expect all participants on the Blackbird AIARE 1 to be proficient with their gear and basic ski touring movement. There is a lot of material to cover during this program and we want to maximize the experience for each participant.Topics Covered in this Avalanche Course:
- Mountain Snowpack
- Mountain Weather
- The Avalanche Problems
- Trip Planning
- Snow and Weather Observations
- How to Practice Small Team Avalanche Rescue
- Terrain Choice
- Human Factors and Assembling your Team
- Trailhead Departure Check
- Route Finding
- Track Setting
- Descent Choices
This course is great for novices and experienced backcountry users alike, but we do require that you:
- Are Proficient at Using Your Gear. If you are not, consider taking Intro to Backcountry. It's an excellent way to build fundamental ski touring skills.
- Can ride Advanced Terrain at a ski resort. The course venue may be in fairly benign terrain, but it is important that riders have an advanced riding ability to manage the highly variable snow conditions we experience in the backcountry. These conditions are typically very different from those found at ski resorts, even in off-piste resort terrain.
- Have Appropriate Gear to Ski/Ride. You must have ski touring equipment or a splitboard. Snowshoes can impede the progress of the team and disrupt the learning outcomes for our guests.
- Have functional avalanche tools (we rent Avy Gear and Packs), including:
- Digital Beacon (newer than 5 years old or recently checked by the manufacturer)
- High Quality Aluminum Shovel (plastic blades often break in dense avalanche debris)
- High Quality Probe (modern, quick-draw style)
Our Hybrid online and field-based AIARE 1 Avalanche Course provides you with the flexibility you need to further your avalanche education while only spending two days in the field.
Our online program allows you to tackle the classroom portion of the learning at home before the course, on your schedule. That’s right, no need to take a Friday off, no need to wait for a holiday weekend, just plan to spend 8 hours on our asynchronous online learning program before the course. This has the added benefit of being able to come back and review the online content any time you want, even after the course is done, to refresh concepts that need more clarification.
Once you’ve completed the online program, you’ll have two full days in the field with our expert Avalanche instructors to see and experience snowpack, terrain and rescue skills.
Online Coursework (6 hours)
Immediately after signing up for Blackbird AIARE 1, you can begin learning. Take the Online Coursework whenever it makes sense for you. You’ll need roughly 6 hours to complete this portion of the course. This education is for your own development and understanding, so study hard and come up with some good questions for your instructor. The more knowledge you have before you arrive to the field, the more you and your fellow participants will get out of the course.
Please take notes and write down questions as you progress through the online coursework so that we can review them in the “Pre-Field Webinar.”
Pre-Field Webinar (2 hours)
Before the course, you’ll be invited to a “Pre-Field Webinar” where you avalanche instructor will tie the lessons of the online coursework together with some fun and helpful exercises. After that, there will be time available for questions.
Field Day 1: Avalanche Rescue and Field Observations
8:00 am Meet your guide and review the plan for the day. The guide will discuss the avalanche problem for the day, the proposed route up and options for the ascent and descent. The guide will conduct a Trailhead Departure Check/Beacon Check.
8:30 am Tour to a zone where we can make snowpack observations pertinent to the current avalanche problem, including a Snow Pit.
12:30 pm Tour to a zone that is appropriate for practicing small team avalanche rescue.
3:30 pm We will close the program at the trailhead with a quick review of the skills that we learned, a synopsis of the avalanche observations that we made and an overview of what to expect the following day in the field.
Field Day 2: Ski Tour with Avalanche Observations and Decision Making
8:00 am We’ll meet at the trailhead for our objective and students will lead us through the weather overnight and forecast for the day, the current avalanche advisory, our route plan and options, an emergency action plan and perform the trailhead beacon check.
Throughout the day we will practice the skills that we’ve learned throughout the program in real time to execute our tour in good style. We’ll practice gathering observations, prioritizing information and making decisions with our teams.
3:30 pm We’ll regroup at the trailhead to debrief the tour and discuss the lessons of the day. Then we will close out the program by providing some guidance on good choices for your next steps in avalanche education and ski touring progression.
Backcountry Touring Gear
❏ Alpine Touring Skis or Splitboard - Light to Midweight Setup with “Tech Bindings”
❏ Alpine Touring Boots or Splitboard Compatible Boots; Scarpa F1
❏ Climbing Skins - Mohair Mix is Best; Black Diamond GlideLite Mohair Mix,
❏ Touring Backpack - A Pack with Avalanche Tools Pocket; BD Cirque 35
❏ Ski Poles - Lightweight, Adjustable Poles with Baskets; BD Expedition 3 Poles
❏ Ski Helmet - Lightweight S
❏ Avalanche Beacon - Digital Avalanche Transceiver; Black Diamond Guide Recon BT
❏ Avalanche Shovel - Collapsible, Aluminum Shovel; Backcountry Access BT2 Shovel
❏ Avalanche Probe - Quickdraw Style Probe; Backcountry Access Stealth 300
Head and Neck Layers
❏ Sun Hat - A Baseball Hat; Blackbird Mountain Guides Logo Hat
❏ Sunglasses - Dark Lens Glasses with Side Coverage; Julbo Shield
❏ Goggles - Ski Goggles with a Storm Lens; Julbo Aerospace Reactive
❏ Warm Hat - Lightweight Warm Hat that Fits Under Your Helmet;
❏ Neck Gaiters - Light to Midweight Neck Gaiters; Buff or your favorite Face Masks
***These Are Required as Covid-19 Face Coverings
Upper Body and Hand Layers
❏ Long Sleeve Base Layer - Lightweight, Synthetic/Wool; Patagonia SunHoody
❏ 2 Insulating Top Layers - Light to Midweight Insulation Layers; Patagonia R1 & Nano Air
❏ Puffy - Midweight Down or Synthetic with Hood; Patagonia Fitzroy or similar
❏ Hardshell Jacket, Hooded - Waterproof, Gore-Tex, NOT insulated; Arc’Teryx Alpha FL
❏ Light Gloves - Light to Mid Weight for Warm Temps; Flylow John Henry Gloves, BD Tour
❏ Midweight Gloves - Mid to Heavy Weight for Cold Conditions; BD Legend
❏ Sports Bra - Wool/Synthetic;
Lower Body and Foot Layers
❏ Socks - Midweight Wool/Synthetic; Darn Tough Via Ferrata
❏ Underwear - Wool/Synthetic
❏ Long Underwear - Wool/Synthetic “Long Johns”; Patagonia Capilene Air
❏ Softshell Ski Pants - Breathable, Weather Resistant for Fair Weather; OR Trailbreaker II
❏ Vented Hardshell Ski Pants - Waterproof Pants for Extreme Weather; Flylow Compound
Food and Water
❏ Nalgene Water Bottle - Hard Sided Bottle; Nalgene 16oz-32oz Wide Mouth Bottle
❏ Soft Water Bottle 1.5L - Flexible Water Bladder; Hydrapak Flux 1.5L
***Please bring at least one hard sided water bottle.
❏ Snacks - Enough Snacks for the Day. There will be no lunch break so snacks must be
convenient and easy to eat.
❏ Sun Screen (SPF 30 minimum)
❏ Lip Balm (with SPF)
❏ Hand Sanitizer
❏ Toilet Paper
❏ First Aid/blister Kit
❏ Chemical Hand Warmers
❏ Hydration System - Flexible Water Bladder with Hose; Hydrapak, Camelback, Platypus
Blackbird Mountain Guides will supply all of the group gear for the trip, including:
✓ Guide’s First Aid Kits
✓ Wag Bags (Solid Human Waste Disposal Bags)
✓ Snow Observation Equipment (Snowsaws, Loops, Crystal Cards, Etc)
Know Before You Go
Mount Baker or Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Physical Difficulty ⚫⚫⚪⚪⚪
The Blackbird AIARE 1 Avalanche Course is of moderate physical difficulty, but requires proficiency in using your touring gear and skiing off-piste terrain. There will also be a lot of content to absorb throughout the course, so be prepared.
Two full days in the field. Prior to participating in the field, you'll complete an asynchronous Online Avalanche Course (6hrs) and Pre-Trip Webinar (2hrs).
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