AIARE 1: Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain

The American Institute for Avalance Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 course is a 3 day/24 hour introduction to avalanche hazard management.

Students can expect to develop a good grounding in how to prepare for and carry out a trip, to understand basic decision making while in the field, and to learn rescue techniques required to find and dig up a buried person (if an avalanche occurs and someone in the party is caught).

A final debrief includes a knowledge quiz to test student comprehension and to give feedback to instructors on instructional tools. Students are encouraged and counseled on how to apply the skills learned and told that no course can fully guarantee safety, either during or after course completion. A link is made to a future AIARE 2 course.

beacon-search team

At the end of the AIARE 1 course the student should be able to:

  • Plan and prepare for travel in avalanche terrain.
  • Recognize avalanche terrain.
  • Describe a basic framework for making decisions in avalanche terrain.
  • Learn and apply effective companion rescue.

Instructional sessions (24 hours including both class and field instruction) :

1. Introduction to the Avalanche Phenomena

  • Types and characteristics of avalanches
  • Avalanche motion
  • Size classification
  • The mountain snowpack: an introduction to metamorphism and layering

2. Observations and Information Gathering

  • Field observation techniques
  • Snowpack tests: rutschblock, compression test
  • Avalanche danger factors or “Red Flags”
  • Observation checklist
  • Avalanche danger scale

3. Trip Planning and Preparation

  • Avalanche terrain recognition, assessment, and selection
  • Route finding and travel techniques
  • Decision making and Human Factors

4. Companion Rescue and Equipment

Student Prerequisites :

Students must be able to travel in avalanche terrain. There are no other prerequisites.

Required equipment for all avalanche courses: Equipment List


Avalanche Courses
Course and length Student Objective Hazard Management Outcomes Link
Avalanche Awareness
1-2 hours
General Public (tailored to):
  • Middle & High School
  • Snowmobiliers
  • Skier, Boarders
  • Mixed user groups
Public awareness of risks associated with recreating in the winter backcountry. Provide information to access the avalanche bulletins, local info.Provide information regarding “observable clues” that indicate avalanche danger. Suggest a Level 1 Avalanche Course for further education or the Introduction fo Avalanche Safety.
Introduction to Avalanche Safety 1 or 2 days General Public (tailored to):
  • Riders frequenting avalanche terrain via lift access or easily accessible backcountry trail-heads.
  • Day trip riders heading to “near country”.


  • Introduce riders to the risks associated with backcountry travel accessed via lift service and easily accessible roadside trail-heads.
  • Review the history of avalanche activity in terrain the participant is likely to travel through.
  • Introduce and learn basic avalanche safety practices common to backcountry travellers.
Suggest a Level 1 Avalanche Course for further education.
3 days/24 hours
  • Introductory student
  • Recreational backcountry leader and party member


  • Introduces the avalanche phenomena.
  • More than an avalanche “awareness” course.
  • Introduces planning and prep for travel in avalanche terrain, human factors, terrain recognition, “red flag” observations, terrain selection, travel techniques.
  • Basic companion rescue
  • Basic hazard management course.
  • Uses rule based tools in combination with introductory knowledge based decision making tools.
  • Stand-alone course.
  • Provides link to level 2 course for backcountry leaders
4 days
  • Advanced
  • Backcountry team leader
  • Introductory professional: ski patrol, guide
Advanced Avalanche course
  • SWAG module, standardizes observation, recording guidelines.
  • Advances understanding of mountain snowpack.
  • Advanced rescue skills
  • Improves decision making and terrain skills.
  • Introduces stability factors/checklist and other stability evaluation tools.
  • Adds snow stability evaluation to hazard/risk management model.
  • Defines professional observation skills
  • Introductory
  • Professional course or advanced recreational team leader course.
  • The SWAG module for the level 3 course
7 days
ProfessionalEducation for:
  • Patrollers
  • Guides
  • CPD for forecasters
  • Advanced recreational leaders
  • Review of snowpack processes
  • Review of new research
  • Operational forecasting course.
  • Advanced decision making in avalanche terrain.
  • Advanced rescue skills
  • Operational style stability analysis/forecast.
  • Independent and team decision- making.
  • Knowledge based tools used in hazard forecasting
Combination of levels 2/ 3; plus completion of Level 3 assessment leads to pass/fail certificate.