January 28-30, 2011

EMS Climbing School AIARE Level I - Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain

David Lottman- Instructor

Course Description

Do you spend time backcountry skiing or snowboarding, winter hiking, mountaineering or ice climbing? It doesn't matter if you're staying in the Northeast or heading out West, you owe it to yourself and your companions to learn all you can about avalanche hazard management. This 3 day/ 24 hour introductory course will provide you with a basic understanding of avalanches.

The American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level I Certification Course is a 3-day program that combines classroom work with field experience to provide a solid basis for decision-making in avalanche terrain. We'll cover such topics as recognizing avalanche-prone slopes, assessing avalanche hazards on-site, route-finding and travel techniques, and skills and equipment for companion rescue.

Students must be able to travel in mountainous winter terrain. Alpine Touring or Telemark Skis with skins are the preferred mode of travel, but hikers with snowshoes or snowboarders can be accommodated.

The AIARE Level I course is a 3 day/24 hour introduction to avalanche hazard management. The course is expected to:

  1. Provide a basic understanding of avalanches
  2. Describe a framework for decision making and risk management in avalanche terrain
  3. Focus on identifying the right questions, rather than on providing "answers."
  4. Give lessons and exercises that are practically oriented, useful, and applicable in the field.
  5. 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).
  6. 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 Level II course.

At the end of the AIARE Level I course the student should be able to:
  1. Plan and prepare for travel in avalanche terrain
  2. Recognize avalanche terrain
  3. Describe a basic framework for making decisions in avalanche terrain
  4. Learn and apply effective companion rescue
Instructional sessions (24 hours including both class and field instruction):

Introduction to the Avalanche Phenomena

  1. Types and characteristics of avalanches
  2. Avalanche motion
  3. Size classification
  4. The mountain snowpack: an introduction to metamorphism and layering

Observations and Information Gathering Field observation techniques

  1. Bonding tests: rutschblock, compression test
  2. Avalanche danger factors; "Red Flags"
  3. Observation checklist
  4. Avalanche danger scale
  5. Trip planning and preparation
  6. Avalanche terrain recognition, assessment, and selection
  7. Route finding and travel techniques
  8. Decision making and human factors
  9. Companion rescue and equipment

This is a sanctioned curriculum offered by AIARE trained instructors, and an AIARE Certificate of Completion is granted to all participants who complete the course.




Meet at North Conway, NH EMS

1498 White Mountain Highway
North Conway, NH 03860
(603) 356-5433

Nearest EMS retail store
North Conway, NH
(603) 356-5433

Mon-Thu 8:30 am - 8:00 pm
Fri, Sat 8:30 am - 9:00 pm
Sunday 8:30 am - 6:00 pm

January 28-30

Required Gear and Clothing

Clothing is as important as your boots and ice axe. Being properly dressed is essential to enjoying your outdoor adventures. Cotton has no place in your winter layering system: it keeps you cold if you sweat and it takes a long time to dry out. Synthetic fabrics or wool keep you warmer when they become wet with sweat and certain synthetic base layers are designed to wick the sweat away from your skin to keep you drier and warmer. In order to make your experience more enjoyable, please do not wear any cotton as layering pieces. Also, remember, you have to carry all your clothing with you, so packing efficiently is important. If you can't wear it all at once, you don't need to bring it. If you have questions about how many or which items to bring, please call 800-310-4504. We expect that you will be dressed and ready to go upon arrival to your lesson.

Base Layer
There's no way around it. You sweat. Wear fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin. Unlike 100% cotton that gets wet and stays wet, wicking fabrics help you regulate your core temperature and avoid overheating or chilling. Great examples include EMS® Techwick® T1 and T2 polyester which wicks, packs, wears, and washes like nothing else. Top and Bottom. Light to mid-weight synthetics, snug fit and close to skin.

Over-Base Layer
Mid-layers add mild insulation to help retain heat that your body creates, and are worn between the base layer and insulation if needed. Examples of over base layers are EMS® Techwick® T2 or T3 or any lightweight wool shirt. Top and Bottom. Light-weight fleece or heavy-weight EMS® Techwick®. Power-Stretch and micro-fleece are ideal materials for this layer. No heavy, 300 weight fleece trousers—you will be over-dressed.

Insulation Layer
Mid-layers add insulation to help retain heat that your body creates, and are worn between the base layer and outer jacket. Examples of insulating mid-layers include a fleece vest, a down sweater, or a synthetic jacket made of Prima Loft® or Thermore®. Jacket only. 200 to 300 weight fleece, heavy weight soft shell or Prima-Loft sweater.

Uninsulated Waterproof and Breathable Shell
Forget about bulky coats. Wear an outer shell (over your base and insulation layer) to shed water and snow. Layering will give you more versatility, depending on the weather and your activity. Outerwear that is waterproof with increased breath ability will be more adaptable and can help transfer moisture away from your body to keep you dry and protected from the elements. Jackets and pants. EMS System III, Gortex®, or similar waterproof/breathable material. Jacket MUST have an integrated hood. Flimsy "stow-away" nylon hoods are not adequate. Full side zip pants are helpful.

"Over-it-All" Hooded Down or Prima-Loft Jacket
This layer is put on when you stop for a break. It keeps the body temperature up when stopped. This layer is generally worn over all your layers; yes, even over your Gore-Tex® Or System Three® jacket.

Gloves or Mittens
When its cold out, your body pumps less blood to your extremities in order to maintain heat in your core. Pack 2 pairs. 1 pair ski/ice climbing gloves is used when your hands are not cold and need to be dexterous. 1 pair of mittens (Gore-Tex® or System Three® is ideal) are worn when your hands are cold and don't need to be dexterous. Either warm gloves or mittens.

Fleece Hat
You've probably heard that most of your body heat escapes from your head. When you're feeling cold the first piece to add to your clothing system is a hat. This hat should cover your ears and can be made of fleece or wool. Remember to fit the hat so you can wear it under a helmet.

Wool or Synthetic Socks
How many times have your feet been way too cold? Wool or wool blend socks are great natural insulators, even when wet. For most cold-weather sports, wear wicking liner socks and midweight wool or synthetic socks. Make sure you fit footwear with heavier socks for more warmth. Footwear that constricts your foot will constrict your blood flow and cause your feet to be cold.

A properly fitting pack will make your day 100 times better. Use a pack large enough to hold all your gear without strapping extra gear to the side. Also, it's important to have a pack that carries ice axes easily, and that has a hip belt to help support the weight. (2,500-3,000 cubic inches is recommended)

Gaiters cover the top of the boot to keep out rain, snow, and ice. They should cover your entire calf and be able to fit over a plastic ice climbing boot. They also cover your Gore-Tex® pants and provide a clean surface around your legs. This way, you are less likely to trip on loose pant legs and damage them while walking and climbing in your crampons.

When the temperatures drop and the wind picks up, the skin on your face becomes very vulnerable to frostnip, and even worse, frostbite. Wearing a balaclava adds protection and warmth to your clothing system. Use an all-fleece balaclava and leave the neoprene for the face mask.

Neoprene Face-Mask
When the balaclava isn't enough, we put on the neoprene. Neoprene is the same material used for wetsuits. In extreme cold or windy conditions neoprene is a supreme windproof layer. When tucked up inside your goggles it gives you full facial protection from the elements. We often cut the mouth holes a little larger to help you breathe better. This piece is the best protection against frostbite on your face.

Ski Goggles
We all wear hats and gloves, but don't forget about your eyes. It's not uncommon for climbers and skiers without protective eyewear to burn their eyeballs. And the sun damage can be just as strong on cloudy days. Wear sunglasses or goggles with UV protection. Goggles also shield your eyes from the harsh temps and blistering winds often encountered above treeline during the winter.

Mother Nature doesn't always provide us with light so we bring our own. Carry an LED headlamp with extra batteries for when She decides to flip the switch.

Ski Helmet
Required for skiers and riders.

Fuel your body. In the mountains, lunch starts when breakfast ends and ends when dinner starts. In other words, we eat all day. A typical climber or skier will consume about 3,500 calories during the course of a day. Pack foods that don't freeze hard, cover all the food groups and are easy to eat. Pre-make peanut butter sandwiches, or bring last night's pizza, and those oh-so delicious candy bars. Carry your bars inside your jacket to keep them warm and gooey.

Wide-mouth water bottles are recommended for winter. 2+ liters is a minimum to keep us hydrated during the day. Please, don't store your water in hydration systems or metal bottles, and don't use thin plastic Poland Springs narrow-mouthed bottles. All of these systems freeze easily making the water unavailable to you. Before coming to the school, please consume ¾ to a liter of water. This will ensure you are starting your day well hydrated.

Optional Items

Light-weight thermos
Water bottle insulator
Hand/ foot warmers

Helpful Hints
1) When packing clothing for your outing, do not pack any more clothing than you can wear at once. If we empty your pack and you can't wear all your clothes because you packed too many layers, you will need to eliminate some clothes.

2) If you are doing a multi-day program, remember all this gear needs to be worn for multiple days. If it will not dry over night please bring extra for the following day(s). Although we have tricks for drying your synthetic long underwear in the tent, its nice to have a spare set of "next to skin" layers and socks to wear while your other clothes are drying.

3) If you need help determining which layers to wear, bring more rather than less, and ask us to help you pack. Drop us an email or call with questions. Remember we are out there every day.

Frequenty Asked Questions

Where to stay?
Lodging and meals are not included in this 3 day course. You will be responsible for arranging your own lodging for each night. The Highland Center in Crawford Notch would be a great option since you will be spending the first 2 days there. Other areas to stay would be North Conway, Glen or Jackson. All are within reasonable driving distance to each day of the course and shopping, dining, etc... Visit the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce for hotel suggestions.

How do we dress for each day of the course?
Day 1 and 2 will be a mix of classroom and outside work. Be prepared to work indoors in the morning and outdoors in the afternoon. Day 3 is your field day. Be prepared to ski/ ride/ snowshoe into Tuckerman Ravine to assess snow conditions. You will be outside for the whole day so dress accordingly and pack food and water.

How can I learn more about the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE)?
Plase visit avtraining.org for further information.

When is the course offered?
AIARE courses are offered December through late March/ April. All course dates are posted on this page. Courses to fill quickly so please make reservations a few weeks in advance to guarantee a spot.

Is there an age requirement?
We ask that all participants be at least 16 years or older. There are some situations where younger participants may join with an adult. Please call to discuss, we will make exceptions on a case by case bases.

What is your cancellation policy?
Cancellations or schedule changes 8 DAYS OR MORE PRIOR to the event start date will be fully refunded or credited with no penalty. Reservation changes of any kind WITHIN 7 DAYS OF THE EVENT START DATE WILL NOT BE REFUNDED and you WILL NOT be permitted to carry over deposits to future events. Please mark this date on your calander after making your reservation!

What is the policy for rain or bad weather?
Part of what we teach with our winter programs is how to deal with adverse weather conditions, so we will go out in all but the most miserable conditions.

Do you provide transportation?
The EMS Climbing School does not provide transportation for any of our programs (unless specified). You will be responsible for travel to and from the climbing school meeting location, and to and from the climbing site. Public transportation is available to a few of our climbing locations. Please call 800-310-4504 for more information.

How many students in each class?
AIARE Avalanche courses run with a 1:6 instructor to student ratio.

What equipment do I need to bring?
A detailed equipment list can be found at the bottom of each course page. If you have any questions about what to bring or what will be provided for you, please call us at 800-310-4504. **Skis are not required to take this course but can be rented from EMS in North Conway.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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