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Winter Season

AIARE Avalanche Safety Course

Not All Avalanche Education Courses Are Equal

Industry Standard AIARE Avalanche Education Courses in Colorado

Avalanche Courses

Did you know that “AIARE” is not synonymous with all avalanche education programs? AIARE is the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education, but the governing body of avalanche education in the U.S is the American Avalanche Association, aka A3. A3 has approved the AIARE curriculum for avalanche safety education.

AIARE is an educator, but they focus on educating and creating certified and qualified instructors, and course curriculum and materials for companies like Colorado Adventure Guides which in turn deliver AIARE Level 1 and other avalanche education in Colorado. We teach and supplement AIARE-based avalanche safety courses because we believe that it is the best, most versatile, and most useful system available in the US.

What Makes the AIARE Curriculum More Useful?

All avalanche courses teach snow science, but Colorado Adventure Guides’ and AIARE’s course and certification system goes beyond weather and physics to give students a Framework they can use with backcountry teammates to make good decisions on snow while subject to group dynamics when the stakes are high. As the AIARE manual says, “Almost every avalanche accident involves a poor decision made by a human. Pre-conditioned biases, an individual’s tendencies, habits, and behavior patterns are described as human factors, or heuristics.” 

CAG’s AIARE coursework will give you a framework and tools that can help you control for heuristic risk factors, too. Further, CAG’s instructors know that avalanche education evolves and keeping backcountry skills sharp is a lifelong journey.

Avalanche Education Classes

Why Does CAG Think the AIARE Avalanche Safety Program is the Outstanding Choice?

1: The AIARE curriculum gives us the flexibility to give our students the benefit of the most hours of education off and on snow

At Colorado Adventure Guides, we believe that the amount of time our students spend honing their skills and knowledge directly affects their learning and safety. Our team is a huge proponent of maximizing the learning experience for our students, and we go well above and beyond the standard 24-hour curriculum.

All of our courses start with an e-learning component which takes  students anywhere from 3-6 hours to complete. The flexible AIARE curriculum allows us to deliver to our students this hugely beneficial, self-paced, e-learning environment, and also the essential, face-to-face, full-day classroom component with our certified, knowledgeable, and passionate instructors. Thus, in all of our AIARE Level 1 and AIARE Level 2 courses students engage, soak in knowledge from our instructors, and get hands-on experience with their classmates in rounding out the lessons introduced by e-learning.

Colorado Adventure Guides really cares about our students’ safety, and we understand that people have different learning styles. We believe that the combination of the AIARE curriculum delivered with an advance e-learning opportunity, face-to-face classroom time, and two solid days on snow, provides the best learning outcomes for everybody who takes a class with us.

Avalanche Courses

Learning To Dig A Snow Pit in AIARE 1

2: Time on Snow

Strange as it sounds, some curriculums don’t require you to learn about snow while on snow. At Colorado Adventure Guides, we strongly believe that the field component is essential to learning about Colorado’s snowpack. Also, the on-snow practice with new friends is the best way to practice new decision-making skills in a real-world setting. We begin our three day courses with a classroom or virtual classroom day, but days 2 and 3 are conducted in the field with your cohorts.

3: CAG’s instructors and course leaders are certified by AIARE

AIARE guide certification ensures they are committed and experienced avalanche professionals. After completing various courses and time in the field, they then attend the Instructor Training Course or the Course Leader Course to hone their skills as educators.

After this rigorous preparation then they must apply to be recognized by AIARE. CAG is honored to have some of Colorado’s most-experienced, certified men and women leaders teaching our courses.

AIARE Level 1 - Avalanche Education Course

AIARE 1 Hut Based

4: The AIARE curriculum allows Colorado Adventure Guides the flexibility to offer fun and unusual course options.

Consider gathering your backcountry crew and heading off with your AIARE-certified instructor to learn about avalanche safety at a backcountry hut! You can take AIARE Level 2 while camping out. These settings allow you the most time to pick your instructors’ brains about everything snow-related. 

5: The AIARE framework is a repeatable process

CAG instructors believe AIARE’s repeatable curriculum best organizes information and allows backcountry travelers to make informed decisions. Our courses will increase your confidence in your skills by providing tools you can use over and over, rather than just facts about snow and avalanches.

AIARE Level 1 - Avalanche Education Course

AIARE 2 Avalanche Education

6: AIARE’s curriculum is continually updated and evolving

As researchers and industry experts learn more about snow science, the human brain, and educational best practices the AIARE guidelines continue to evolve.

7: Colorado Adventure Guides’ courses grow with you.

From our Intro to Backcountry Skiing/Splitboarding, to AIARE Avalanche Level 1, AIARE Companion Rescue, and AIARE Level 2 courses, to our more advanced and technical ski/splitboard mountaineering courses, there’s a class designed for your experience level. You’ll likely meet new friends with the same interests, too!

Avalanche Courses

Colorado Adventure Guides teaches a broad range of avalanche courses from our own free clinics, Introduction to Backcountry Ski or Splitboard classes, and Avalanche Refresher courses to AIARE-certified Level 1, Rescue, and AIARE Level 2 courses. ‘

While we’ve blogged before about why you would want to take an avalanche course at all, you may not be sure what winter backcountry travel entails, or how to use the specialized equipment. Before you buy equipment or invest in a 3-day AIARE Level 1 class, we recommend that you make sure you like the challenges of backcountry winter travel. Take a couple of our free, hour-and-a-half clinics held around the Front Range and mountain counties. Then, get discounted rentals of top-of-the-line backcountry gear from our Backcountry Demo Center, and take CAG’s one-day Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding course first to make sure you will enjoy your backcountry experience. ‘

Because avalanche education skills are perishable,  AIARE recommends taking the AIARE Avalanche Rescue course about every other year with your backcountry touring partners. Quick rescues happen only if you and your companions practice various scenarios often. We hope you never need to rescue anyone buried, but if you do, you and your friends will have learned and practiced using the AIARE framework with your companions and Colorado Adventure Guide instructors to speed the response. Another option for graduates of earlier AIARE courses is to take CAG’s Avalanche Refresher Course which we designed to refresh topics covered in an AIARE Level 1, AIARE Level 2, or AIARE Avalanche Rescue course.  

Book an AIARE course with Colorado Adventure Guides today!

You can reach out to our helpful reservation team who are ready and waiting to assist you with any inquiries and secure your spot for an AIARE course at Colorado Adventure Guides. Choose between booking online or giving us a call today to guarantee your reservation.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Education

Why Should I Take An AIARE Course?

Why Should I Take an AIARE Course with Colorado Adventure Guides?

AIARE Avalanche Education

The growth of backcountry skiing and riding in recent years has been incredible. With the fantastic images that we see in ski movies and a backlash against the lines and crowds of resorts, more people than ever are starting to explore beyond the ski area. With that growth comes the risks that pertains to backcountry travel, and the need for quality education from local guides who live and work in the backcountry every day, and a highly reputable company with vast experience in the area.

With priority access in the Summit County area, and a wide span of teaching areas from Vail Pass to Loveland Pass and beyond, Colorado Adventure Guides builds its courses based around the best conditions over a wide variety of terrain. This in return helps to provide more comprehensive education for our students. There are numerous reasons to take an AIARE Avalanche Course with Colorado Adventure Guides, and here are the reasons that set us apart from the pack and make CAG a top leader within Colorado’s backcountry education scene.

Trusted AIARE Avalanche Instructors in Colorado

We are about education not cost

Backcountry and Avalanche Education is an investment into a lifetime of new adventures and possibilities, and we recognize that there is a cost-factor involved, which is why we have a series of discounts for you to take advantage of. The value you are getting out of the course is instruction from highly passionate, experienced, and qualified instructors, sharing combined decades of backcountry experience and helping to gain the knowledge and confidence to take on your own backcountry adventures. In calculating a price that is fair to our students, we also offer several perks and discounts for our students to take advantage of. Groups, returning clients, locals of Summit, Eagle, and Park Counties, students who sign up for more than one course, and students who are continuing their education post Avalanche Level 1, all receive generous increasing discounts and perks for going through Colorado Adventure Guides.

We can provide gear rentals from top brands for use during the courses from our in house Backcountry Demo Center. When taking an avalanche course, many are not ready to make the investment into backcountry equipment or are not sure which equipment they should get. Colorado Adventure Guides is a proud partner of Ortovox Avalanche Equipment, DPS Skis, and Weston Splitboards, where we have a full demo center with this top of the line gear available during your course. So at the start of your backcountry life, you are supported with some of the best brand names in the industry. All students who take our Level 1, Avalanche Rescue, or Level 2 Courses are eligible for a FREE rental of an Ortovox avalanche safety package (Beacon, Shovel, and Probe) at no additional cost. Students also have discounted access to our demo center with DPS Skis and splitboards from Weston Backcountry, giving them access to the latest backcountry models. At the end of the course, students also are eligible for exclusive discounts on gear through our partners.

AIARE 2 Avalanche Education
AIARE 2 Avalanche Education

An inviting and diverse classroom

The backcountry community has an image problem that makes it look predominantly white and male and in recognizing this fact, we aim to create an environment that is diverse and welcoming to all genders and ethnicities. Our courses are led through a diverse range of instructors, including many women and people of color, and we aim to be what we want to see in our industry. Our goal is to open the backcountry to anybody and make it inclusive and welcoming in order to buck the image and trend that we are currently seeing.

Intro to Backcountry Splitboarding and Skiing

Weekend and Weekday Courses Available

Colorado Adventure Guides - Guided Outdoor Adventures

Having courses that are close to home and in a variety of timeframes is important, and we are varying our course schedules to make way for more weekday, weekend, hybrid courses, and more locations across the State. For the 2022/2023 season we are offering our in-person classrooms as well as virtual classrooms (the field days remain outside). The virtual classroom allows students to take Day 1 from the comfort of their own home and takes a potential day of lodging out of the mix.

We also run hut-based courses out of 4 different huts and the price includes the hut and some of the food. We are also partnering with Winter Park Resort, for a lift-assisted AIARE Level 1 that’s closer to the Front Range. We’re building a course schedule that’s more friendly and accommodating to different schedules and locations.

We have the longevity and experience to give you a comprehensive experience

Colorado Adventure Guides has been operating in the Summit County Area since 1996 and has intimate knowledge of our snowpack, and terrain giving you firsthand beta on some of the most beloved mountains in Colorado. We’ll learn about our unique geography and climate, helping you not only understand our local snowpack but also some of our favorite secret spots.

When you take a course with Colorado Adventure Guides, you’re investing in a lifetime of adventure. While there are many AIARE Course Providers out there, we are the experts with the Summit County knowledge, and we strive on building a course and classroom that is accommodating for every person and schedule. We would love to have you in our courses this year.

AIARE Level 1 - Avalanche Education Course

Book an AIARE course with Colorado Adventure Guides today!

Our friendly reservation team is standing by to answer any questions and book your AIARE course with Colorado Adventure Guides. Book directly online or call today to reserve your spot.

Beginner Backcountry Skiing

How To Get Into Backcountry Snowboarding

The First Steps

Beginner Backcountry Skiing

Breckenridge and Vail ski areas average about 1.6 million skier visits per season.  If I break out my calculator and do some quick math, based on a 150 day season, that’s a crapload of skiers!  Using a standard conversion scale, a ~crapload of skiers~ equals….long lift lines.  But, luckily, there’s an alternative.  Over the last decade, backcountry skiing and snowboarding has taken the world by storm (pun intended). 

Why this spike in interest for the backcountry?  There’s a variety of reasons, but the most common that I’ve heard are: the lift lines and long waits or the fact that the mountain gets tracked out by 9:30am on powder days, resulting in the phenomenon we refer to as “powder panic.”  Surely there are other contributing factors.  But, what is clear is that there’s a decreasing quality of the skier experience at these busy resorts.  Ultimately, these factors have begun pushing people off of the ski area and into the backcountry.

Insights for Beginner Backcountry Skiers

The backcountry, however, isn’t controlled in the same manner as a ski area.  There are no visible boundaries, no ski patrol to scoop you up if you get hurt, no avalanche mitigation to ensure your safety, and no lifts to whisk you to the top in under 10 minutes.  Instead, backcountry travelers create their own boundaries; carry gear for self-extraction; study, learn, and practice how to avoid avalanches; practice avalanche rescue techniques; and spend countless hours skinning up mountains for mere minutes of actual downhill skiing. For some, the concept is ridiculous.  For others, the rewards are worth all of the work.  For those of us who prefer to color outside the lines, backcountry skiing is a lifelong pursuit.

So, you might ask, how does one become a backcountry skier or snowboarder?  My immediate, (and more philosophical) response is patience.  What I mean by this is, don’t rush.  Backcountry skiing is a journey.  There is a lifetime of information to ingest and understand in order to explore a lifetime of terrain.  Being in a hurry will only increase your risk.  But, a more helpful answer is this question:  you need the correct equipment and know how to use it properly, you need the education and you need to apply and practice your skills often.  Seems simple enough and it can be.  However, the backcountry and the snowpack are very dynamic, meaning, often changing so we must stay on top of our game to keep ourselves and our partners safe.  Let’s take a look at the professionally recommended progression for folks interested in making the transition from lift-service skiing and snowboarding to the backcountry.

Backcountry Mentor Program
Backcountry Mentor Program.

Step 1: Clinics and Info Sessions


There are numerous clinics, avalanche awareness classes, and/or basic information sessions held around the Front Range of Colorado. They are commonly held at various breweries and ski shops in Denver, Colorado Springs, Golden, and Boulder, as well as, in the high-country in places like Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Silverthorne and Vail.  These sessions usually cover the basics of what you need to know just to dip your toes into the backcountry scene and you’ll have an opportunity to ask any questions that have been burning since the backcountry piqued your interest. 

Typically you can find these clinics via your local mountaineering/backcountry shop, your local guide service and avalanche course provider, or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.  Your best bet is to follow their social channels to keep up with announcements on these types of community events.  You can also check out books like Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain and Snow Sense to get a jump on your avalanche safety knowledge.  Ortovox, a mountaineering and backcountry safety equipment manufacturer from Germany has some great resources in their Ortovox Safety Academy web page.

Step 2: Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

Colorado Adventure Guides - Guided Outdoor Adventures

This one-day, on-snow course is designed with the “never-ever” backcountry skier/rider in mind.  Students should have the opportunity to learn about the equipment and how it works, put it to use, and travel in the backcountry with a professional instructor.  Avalanche educators recommend a course like this prior to taking an AIARE avalanche course to learn the foundational skills of ski touring or splitboarding.  Backcountry skis and splitboards are  not the same as the equipment we use at normal ski resorts.  There are many moving parts which provide the ability to ski uphill to reach the point from which you’ll ski or snowboard down. Its important to take the time to learn the ins and outs of over-snow travel and associated techniques, like how to apply and remove skins, adjust alpine touring boots, get into and out of your binding, switch bindings between ski and walk mode, how to dress for uphill and downhill, skinning technique, setting skin tracks, performing kick turns, and a variety of other important basic skills. 

What’s Next? – Avalanche Safety Training Courses

AIARE Level 1 - Avalanche Education Course

Once you’ve taken the steps to gather the basic information about backcountry skiing and splitboarding and have spent some time out in the mountains in low-consequence terrain honing your skinning technique and practicing with your equipment, whether in a formal course environment or with knowledgeable friends, you’ll be ready for the next step.  From here, you’ll begin looking for the right avalanche safety course.  In the next blog, we’ll go over the progression of avalanche safety classes, AIARE Level 1, AIARE Avalanche Rescue, and AIARE Level 2 and do a simple breakdown of the curricula.

Splitboard Tour

Januburied – Backcountry Skiing in Summit County

If you skied in January in Summit County, then you are probably still wearing a portion of your ear-to-ear grin.  It was one of the best months of skiing in my recallable memory.  And, for those of us who spend a majority of our time skiing UP mountains to find the freshest of the freshest powder, January was a benevolent beast.  For most of us, it was one of the best months of backcountry skiing in our lives.  The snowpack was uncharacteristically solid and yesterday’s tracks were consistently covered up by storm cycles that seemed to be stacked on each other.  We didn’t have to go far to ski epic conditions and I would bet that local snorkel sales skyrocketed.  As we move into mid-february and a high-pressure ridge hovers over central Colorado, our ski tours are blessed with an abundance of sunshine and comfortable, high-alpine lunch breaks.  Though we are breaking high-temperature records in the high country, our snowpack seems to be holding strong and there are still powder stashes to be found.  Join Colorado Adventure Guides on a Saturday Powderhunt™ or if backcountry skiing isn’t your thing, we have 3 weekly group snowshoe tours into Summit County’s backcountry which might just suit your style.  Let our guides share their love of the mountains with you. Call (970) 668-8900 or book online to reserve your adventure.   Your adventure awaits!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Safety Course

Death and Skiing: Risk vs. Reward in the Backcountry

A few weeks ago we attended the Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop.  At this annual pre-season event, professionals from around the snowsports industry present on various topics pertaining to snow and avalanche research.  Think of it as a TedX but with a whole lot more beards, flannel, and approach shoes.  It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other snow professionals.  From presentations about snow safety education in the Middle East to breaking down the psychological causality of avalanche incidents, it was a very informative day and a great way to get us snow professionals into the winter mindset.

Just a couple of days later, we learned of the tragic events surrounding the death of renowned climber and Colorado native Hayden Kennedy and his girlfriend Inge Perkins, the season’s first avalanche victim.  When I got the message from a friend that someone had died in an avalanche in the first week of October, I was pretty shocked.  The juxtaposition of these two events was eye opening.  I had just spent an 8-hour day listening to people talk about avalanches, looking at the destructive power of snow, and dissecting the historical data from avalanche accidents.  Now it was a reality, people were already dying and we hadn’t even had a real snowfall yet.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about their terrifying story.

“Admittedly, when I first read the text and before any of the details of the incident emerged, I didn’t know who Hayden Kennedy was.  But, it didn’t matter.  It made me think about death and how scary it must have been to be in that situation.  My first thoughts were for his family and his friends, those who had spent countless hours with him in mountains, the people who would be learning that their friend was gone and they’d never climb with him again.  Death is an extremely difficult topic to talk about.  Even 4 years after losing my old man, I still struggle to talk about it.  The truth is, we have to talk about it, or we learn nothing.  For mountaineers, it is becoming a more common subject as we continue to push ourselves into bigger and more complicated terrain.  Every year, the world’s foremost mountaineers are doing something more extreme, more spectacular, and more unbelievable.  And, every year, we are losing another accomplished adventurer.  And, every year it’s sad.  And, every year we talk about the inherent risks in our risky pursuits.  And, every year we find a way to rationalize it.  And, hopefully, we learn something each time.”]
What did I learn?  Don’t let your guard down, set protocols and follow them, never undermine the power of the mountains, and hug your loved ones.  As another season approaches where I will inevitably spend plenty of time negotiating and managing avalanche terrain, making life or death decisions, and trying to minimize risks, I’ll try to keep Hayden and Inge’s story in the back of my head.  Whether I’m skiing Baldy or a steep line in the Gore Range, the protocol is the same.  I read the CAIC avalanche forecast.  I carry my avalanche safety equipment.  I turn on and check my beacon at the trailhead.  I don’t refer to any terrain as “safe” or exempt from the dangers of backcountry travel (even if I can see the pub from the top of my ski line).  I’ll examine and manage terrain exactly the same way whether it’s a 20 degree tree run or a 40 degree couloir.  I assume nothing.  It’s a practice.  It’s a mindset.  It’s about following the systems you learn in your avalanche education which are specifically designed to minimize your risk and keep you alive.  Learn them, practice them, follow them EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.”So, as the season arrives, snow piles up in the mountains, and the stoke for skiing the backcountry grows, remember to remind yourself that the mountains don’t care who you are, and avalanches don’t discriminate.  Educate yourself and don’t assume anything.  Be honest with yourself and your assessment and live to ski another day.  There will always be more powder turns.

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