Two skiers on a mountain

Avalanche Level 1

Avalanche Level 1—Avalanche Fundamentals

Students who are successful in this course will come away with a certificate of completion (not a certification) stating that they have met the following American Avalanche Association outcomes.

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Course Outcomes

  • Access local avalanche bulletin and become fluent in the application of its concepts
  • Describe where and why avalanches occur; understand key components of formation
  • Identify human factors
  • Apply simple decision-making tools to prepare for traveling in avalanche terrain
  • Apply risk management tools:
    • safety equipment
    • trailhead checks
    • clear communication
  • Learn procedures for Basic Companion Rescue
  • Make and record critical observations for snowpack and weather
  • Practice snowpack tests appropriate for the current avalanche problems
  • Identify avalanche terrain in the field
  • Choose terrain appropriate for safe travel that reflects the current avalanche forecast
  • Link participant objectives to terrain and avoid avalanche problems

Course Policies

  • Students are required to attend all class and field sessions.

  • Participate fully in all classroom and field sessions. Leaving early or arriving late is not acceptable.

  • Complete avalanche forecast assignment. (Described below)

Travel Equipment

Each student is responsible to obtain the proper equipment necessary for field sessions; a ski resort lift will not be used. All equipment is required for the field sessions. Contact the instructor with any questions.

Much of this gear can be rented from the Westminster Outdoor Program or Outdoor Adventures at the University of Utah, Black Diamond Retail Store, and/or Wasatch Touring. We recommend reserving your equipment at least 1 week in advance!

Each participant will need to use one of the following methods for travel on snow: snowshoes, telemark skis, alpine touring skis (randonee skis), or a split snowboard (splirboard.) Cross-country ski gear is not allowed. Downhill/Alpine equipment will not work without a free-heel binding for ascending. If you choose to use snowshoes, please consider the fact that they are not nearly as efficient as skis/split boards and you will need to be in particularly good athletic shape to keep up.

Additional Equipment

  • Boots (the more comfortable the better)
  • Climbing skins will be needed for AT skis, telemark skis, and split boards
  • Ski poles (recommended for snowshoers also).
  • Transceiver, 457kHz, less than 5 years old
  • Collapsible avalanche shovel
  • Probe
  • Daypack, 20-liter capacity or more
  • Lunch and snacks for all day outside (chocolate for instructors).
  • Water (two liters, start with hot water!).
  • Notepad and pencil (Rite in the Rain brand works well in wet/snowy conditions)
  • Goggles and/or sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and lip balm


Warm clothing that is designed for winter use, i.e. ski pants and jackets, down jacket etc. Do not bring cotton layers.

  • All necessary under, mid, and outer layers appropriate for winter recreation
  • 1 or 2 pair of winter gloves (an additional pair of thin gloves is also recommended)
  • Warm hat
  • Sun hat
  • Ski Socks
  • Down/synthetic down jacket

Keep in mind it will not be possible to go to your car and change once we leave the parking lot. We will spend all day in the field and be out until 5pm or later.

Optional Equipment

  • Download a slope meter app for your smart phone which measures the angle of a slope
  • Compass
  • Inclinometer
  • Crystal card
  • Hand lens
  • Snow thermometer
  • Binoculars
  • Small foam pad to sit on

Avalanche Forecast Assignment

Utilizing the Utah Avalanche Center, take advantage of this great resource and support their fundraisers!

  • For three days prior to the tour on Jan 30: 1. Go to the UAC Salt Lake avalanche report and make notes of conditions and weather in addition to any recent avalanche activity (keep it concise; 1 or 2 paragraphs total). Do not copy their report; try to put it in your words as if someone asked you, "What's it doing out there today?" Do this for three separate days. You will present your findings in groups of 2 or 3.

  • Write a forecast for 2/1 based on current snow conditions and the weather forecast.

Recommended Reading

  • Avalanche Essentials: A Step by Step System For Safety and Survival by Bruce Tremper

  • Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper

Additional Information

  • If you do not feel up to the strenuous field sessions, please see the instructor at the first class about dropping the course. Consider, we shovel lots of snow while digging pits and rescuing mock victims, additionally, we travel several miles on snow in steep mountainous terrain above 10,000 feet.

  • If you are using skis or a split board, you must be an experienced, competent skier/rider. Having consistent control in the backcountry is critical as the terrain is much more dangerous than that of lift access ski areas.

  • Class will be held regardless of weather unless canyon roads are closed. Occasionally the canyon will be "restricted" to four-wheel drive or chains; on these days classes will be held. The canyon buses operate on "restricted" days. Check the mountain weather. In the event of a delayed road opening we will meet at the pre-assigned location at the time the road does open.

  • The college will do its best to provide transportation. If that's not possible, we will help make sure participants have a safe and suitable alternative.

  • Please Note: Although your instructor has made efforts to make this information accurate, errors may be present. Additionally, certain events may require changes to the syllabus. Students will be informed when this is necessary. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

About the Instructor

Josh Beckner

Josh BecknerJosh received his BA in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide, AMGA Aspirant Ski Guide, AMGA SPI Course/Exam Provider, holds a Level 3 Avalanche Certification, and has a wide breadth of outdoor experience gained on over 20 international expeditions. He has climbed in the Himalaya, Karakoram, Northern Andes, Coast Range (BC), Patagonia, and the Arctic. He has put up first ascents on alpine walls up to 3,000 feet high in some of the most remote corners of the planet. Josh has honed his craft as an educator while working as a Guide for Exum Mountain Guides, an Instructor at the University of Utah, as a Senior NOLS Instructor, and as an instructor for various other programs throughout the country. Josh is the director of the School for International Expedition Training, a nonprofit school that trains aspiring mountain guides and outdoor educators. He feels that the expedition is the perfect medium for grappling with, and understanding life's greatest lessons, and he loves mentoring students through that process! Email Josh: