Who is Teaching Your Avalanche Class

Posted: Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 at 1:09 pm


Just this morning I got an email from the West Central Montana Avalanche Center and After a quick follow up phone call I thought it was useful enough information to pass along in the form of a Post.  At The Trail head we have done our best to support the West Central Montana Avalanche Center and its fundraising arm the foundation.  I did my term as a member of the board and got to see first hand how difficult it is to have the forest service expand the services with an ever shrinking budget.  Everything we did while I was on the board was directed at educating as many folks as possible, and raising money to expand education and forecasting.  To see the for profit groups jumping in now is a bit hard to stomach.  More important than that however is how everyone is describing classes and what that really means, the letter spells it out well.

I wanted to respond especially on the heels of the NY times article about the slide last season at Stevens Pass,

this is an amazing read and I suggest it for everyone who is thinking about ducking a rope and doing a quick lap.


Here is the letter I received from the center today, check it out.


Avalanche Education from missoulaavalanche and the West Central  Montana Avalanche Center

We are beginning to see, and most likely will continue to see, more avalanche course providers in west central Montana. Missoulaavlanche, the University of Montana and the West Central Montana Avalanche Center (Lolo national Forest) have been cooperating to provide avalanche education in the area for a long time, actually decades. Many of these education efforts have been free, provided as a public service. We have provided free instruction for snowmobile clubs, outdoor clubs, outdoor businesses, county search & rescue, Life-Flight crews, Forest Service personnel, the general public, ski patrols and non-profit organizations. Additionally, a public school education program has been provided.

Courses offered through this cooperative effort that have a fee are part of the revenue that enables Missoulaavalanche to help fund public avalanche advisories (in partnership with the Forest Service), free public education and projects such as beacon parks.

While there is nothing wrong, and perhaps everything to be gained, by increasing opportunities for educating backcountry recreationists about avalanche hazards; We would like to help clarify to the public how avalanche education is organized, or not organized, in the US and help define what “certification” means.

You may see courses labeled as a level 1 or 2 “certification”. Generally our courses have been called level 1 or level 2 courses. The term “certification” can be misleading in avalanche education. Level 1 or level 2 courses do not certify anyone to do anything; i.e. guide in avalanche terrain or throw bombs. Courses with “level” titles simply mean (hopefully) that the course meets certain guidelines from either the American Avalanche Association (AAA) or the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE). We do issue a “certificate” of completion (not a certification) for those who finish Missoulaavalanche courses. . One may also note that the American Avalanche Institute, which was founded by Rod Newcomb many years ago and one of the oldest avalanche education organizations in the U.S., calls all their programs (Level 1,2, 3) courses; not certifications. Our level 2 courses in Missoula are offered in conjunction with AAI. www.americanavalancheinstitute.com/

AAA is the association for avalanche center employees, guides, transportation workers, avalanche researchers, etc. AIARE is an educational organization. Both organizations do “certify” avalanche instructors. What does this mean? It means you have passed courses or met the standards to be recognized as an avalanche instructor by these specific organizations. Then, theoretically, the public can know that their instructor met some standard.

You can visit AAA’s website http://www.americanavalancheassociation.org/index.php to find out if your instructor is certified or a professional member. You can visit AIARE’s website to find out if your instructor has that certification http://avtraining.org/ .

Missoulaavlanche follows AAA recommended guidelines and our lead instructors are AAA professional members or AAA certified instructors as well as avalanche center specialists, professional patrol members and professional outdoor educators. Any profits from Missoulaavlanche classes are used to provide avalanche advisories, free public education and projects such as beacon parks. Visitwww.missoulaavalanche.org to read avalanche advisories for west central Montana and to find educational opportunities. The Forest Service is responsible for the advisories and the website is a product of  missoulaavalanche, a 501 (3) (c) organization.


Dudley Improta

Avalanche Specialist & Educator, West Central MT Avalanche Center

AAA Certified Instructor & Professional Member

West Central Montana Avalanche Center
Lolo National Forest
Bldg. 24a Fort Missoula Rd.
Missoula, MT 59804
406-329-3752 cell 406-370-3371


I am sure the center and all the professional educators and specialists would love to here feed back on how they can improve services.