Regardless if you have years of experience in the backcountry, or you are just getting started, everyone has something to learn at an avalanche awareness clinic.

What Is an Avalanche Awareness Clinic?

This two-hour course is designed to give a brief, high-level overview of avalanche problems, gear, and rescue. An avalanche awareness clinic is not meant to be a substitute for a formal, three-day AIARE course. The topics covered in this course are meant to be a friendly reminder of the dangers of avalanches in Colorado. If you plan on traveling in the backcountry, either on foot, skis or mechanized equipment, take an AIARE Level One course specific to your mode of travel. 

Backcountry skiing - Meg Atteberry - OutThere Colorado
Photo Credit: Meg Atteberry.

Who Should Take this Course?

If you are interested in snow travel, this course is a great overview before enrolling in an AIARE Level One. It provides a great backbone from which to jump into an AIARE class. You will go into your AIARE class with the basic principles and lingo of avalanche safety.

This course is also an excellent choice for the backcountry veteran. An awareness clinics help you get back into the mindset of safe decision making in the backcountry. These clinics are typically free, so there is really no excuse not to take one.

What is Covered in an Avalanche Awareness Clinic?

Avalanche Awareness Clinics provide a general surface overview of the different topics associated with avalanche safety. The course explains the avalanche triangle or the effects of weather, terrain, and snowpack on avalanche conditions. The course continues on to discuss terrain traps and triggers, red flags to look for while touring, and the basic concepts behind safety gear.

Human impact also carries a lot of weight in the backcountry and this course touches on the importance of group communication. Group decision making often makes or breaks a serious situation in the backcountry. This dynamic is complex and this course emphasizes this relationship.

Lastly, and most importantly, the course provides plenty of photos and video for spotting avalanche terrain and looking at what happens during close calls and fatal accidents. Nothing is more fun for a snow-nerd than pointing out potential hazards!

Avalanche Awareness Clinic Presentation - Meg Atteberry - OutThere COlorado
Photo Credit: Meg Atteberry.

What Topics are Excluded from These Courses?

Since this is meant to be an overview, the exact nature of why you would make decisions based on the different conditions is not covered nearly as in-depth as it is in an AIARE Course. Therefore, you really aren’t armed with enough knowledge to go out into the backcountry and make sound decisions.

The relationship between the weather and the snowpack is also not covered, this means that you will not walk away understanding that certain weather patterns cause certain types of weak or strong snow, which can weigh heavily on avalanche conditions.

Although they do mention online tools available to you, they do not teach you how to interpret those tools. This is an essential skill used when planning a tour, however there is no way to cover the information in a couple of hours.

Lastly, the class does not include any information on the intricacies of a companion rescue, or finding a buddy who is caught in an avalanche, or how to dig and interpret a snow pit. Snow pits help you observe what conditions are like in the area you are traveling in. These skills need to be practiced in a safe area outdoors.

Where Can I Find an Avalanche Awareness Clinic in Colorado?

There are plenty of choices when searching for an Avalanche Awareness Clinic. Check with your local gear shop, REI Store, or guiding company throughout the winter season. In the Front Range, the Friends of Berthoud Pass put on several awareness clinics in Denver, Golden, and Lakewood. There are even ladies’ nights, where the course it taught by and for women.

If you are on the fence about winter travel, there are many opportunities throughout the season to take this course. Although it is no substitute for an AIARE course, the avalanche awareness clinic enables you to begin to understand the avalanche dangers here in Colorado and prepares you for a safe and fun backcountry season.

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