The case for more education in the outdoors

If you've been in the...

Backcountry in the winter, you've probably taken an AIARE course - or heard about it - or if you haven't, then you should! AIARE stands for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and they do just that - they put up highly informational and digestible information on how to identify avalanche terrain, how to evaluate snowpack, how to travel in avalanche terrain, and so much more. If you recreate in the winter, you've probably used or needed to use the information that they have to share.

It is so easy to get complacent with these skills, but if you don't practice, then they do indeed go away. If nothing more, taking a class gives you the ability to connect with your instructors, who really know their stuff, and get their expertise on areas you aren't solid with. In avalanche terrain in most conditions, you should be as solid as possible in assessing dangers, paths of travel, and the snowpack.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Let's be real - if you were going to get my point, you've got it in the first couple sentences. I want to tell you about the awesome experience I had on my AIARE 2 course that I just finished up with Kaf Adventures. In short, it was one of the best education experiences I had ever had in the outdoors - thank you Mick and Jenna! My classmates and I happened to make up the first AIARE 2 class that Kaf had ever put on, and they did a fantastic job at doing so.

My friend Tessa performing a shovel tilt test and getting a positive result. Look at that layer!

Ever seen a rain runnel in a snowpit?! Dim your screen to see it better!

On top of the awesome instructors, it just so happened to be a course of all female students, and only a total of three students (two had to drop last minute) which made for an awesome instructor to student ratio. I don't know how many of you readers are women, but I know from my experience that being female in the outdoors, while awesome, can at times can be really difficult. It was awesome to have a learning environment where I felt that I could be open and honest with my peers. Don't get me wrong, I love being in the outdoors with male partners as well! I do so quite frequently. However this class just felt like something special to be surrounded by ladies.

Here is what our time looked like in the course:

  • Day 1 - We were at the Kaf headquarters down in South Seattle learning in a classroom all day! This was of course, the most monotonous part, however it really laid down the basics for the next two days.

  • Day 2 - We set off to the Alpental area to explore terrain near Source Lake. Today was observational and the day after was focused more on travel and decision making. We happened to have a unique snowpack, with the Snoqualmie area just getting a TON of wet, heavy rain in January (see the rain runnel in the picture to the left!) This day was spent digging, assessing, and predicting.

  • Day 3 - This day was more of a "practice tour" day. Where we made a plan the day before, and practiced safe travel, did quick snowpack tests, dug a pit as a way to assess a slope we were going to ski, oh and - we made some turns!

When I got back home from this course, I had a friend ask me, "do you feel like you learned anything new?" and to this, I had to admit, I don't think much of the material was new to me. There were some topics and info I didn't know for sure, but the main meat of the class was really learning to MASTER and OWN the information learned in AIARE 1. The purpose of the class is to really teach you to be confident making decisions for yourself in avalanche terrain, and boy did I walk away feeling awesome about those skills. Thank you Jenna and Mick for empowering us in that way!

On the fence about signing up for a class? Taking a class starts by seeing what is being offered out there, so go check it out yourself! I personally loved my class thru Kaf, however there are so many solid providers out there. My recommendation - look for small companies! This likely means smaller class sizes, and it means you are supporting local businesses, which is a huge plus. AIARE also lists class providers in your area, and this can help you find the right one.

Stay safe out there, folks!

Psyched to get more outdoor education, but not sure how to start? Check out my article on How to get Education in the Outdoors!

Written February 27, 2020 by Madelynn Scherrer