5 reasons to do an avalanche awareness course

We went out with Adventure Consultants in Wanaka to learn all about how to stay safe in the mountains.

These days, everyone is on the hunt for the freshest lines. Powder turns are gold and it’s open season for miners.

That’s why it’s become incredibly important to get educated before heading into the side or backcountry. So, we joined Adventure Consultants for their Avalanche Awareness Course – an evening and full day’s session on all things avalanche safety.

Here’s why you should enroll in an avalanche awareness course before heading out-of-bounds.

1. Course accessibility

Both snowboarders and skiers attended the course, of all ages and all ability levels. From the family unit with the father and his teenage children, to the snowboarder-turned-skier who only had a few days on two planks. In the classroom, we learned about all types of terrain and on-mountain, we moved as a group. Our guides were happy to give extra guidance where needed and everyone felt comfortable.

Mountain views

Adventure Consultants advises on their website that this course is of a low difficulty level and only a low level of fitness is required.

2. It's more than just checking the avalanche report

And while the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory will give you essential information about the status of the mountains, this course gave us a glimpse into the multitude of factors that can affect snow pack and avalanche status, including weather, air currents, previous snowfalls and much more.

Aspect inspection of avalanche terrain by skiers in the mountains of New Zealand

The guides broke down this information in a way that was easily digestible, leaving us interested and keen to learn more about the complex systems that affect avalanche conditions and the mountains.

3. Learn life-saving rescue techniques

So, you’ve bought your transceiver, probe and shovel – check, check, check. Now; how to use them. During the on-mountain day, our instructors ran through a number of avalanche rescue scenarios during which we learned how to most effectively use all our equipment to lead to an efficient and (most importantly) fast rescue.

Skier uses a BCA Tracker2 to detect person in an avalanche

Skiers learn how to rescue someone from an avalanche with avalanche equipment

As our instructor Mike said, ‘it’s not enough to just have the gear in your bag – you have to know how to use it!’

4. Learn terrain analysis

There was a running joke in our group that if a slope has snow on it – then it’s avalanche terrain. And while Mike conceded that this was technically true, he was also quick to ask us ‘Okay, but besides that, why is this avalanche terrain?’

Examining snow pack in the Southern Alps in New Zealand

A big part of the course was learning how to read the mountains – how to pick out the subtle clues hiding among the slopes that indicate potential danger. Is there evidence of avalanche debris? What is the aspect and angle of the slope? At which altitude are we, etc. By the end of the day, we felt like we had only just brushed the (figurative) surface – but as Mike explained, that’s how we’re supposed to feel because, essentially, we have. And that leads us into our final reason for taking an avalanche awareness course…

5. Know how much you don't know

Our instructors had decades of experience in the mountains – if that gives you an idea of just how much there is to learn. There’s a saying about your first avalanche awareness course – you'll leave feeling like you know nothing. And while this course was incredible for developing practical skills like terrain analysis, traveling in avalanche terrain, rescue fundamentals and avalanche theory, it left us hungry for more.

Skier celebrates powder turns on the mountain in New Zealand

Adventure Consultants recommends enrolling in their four-day backcountry avalanche course as the next step. After the awareness course, you’ll have obtained your Mountain Safety Council (MSC) Avalanche Awareness Certificate. The four-day course then sets you up to receive your MSC Backcountry Avalanche Certificate. This course spends as much time as possible outside the classroom, allowing you to fully grasp the practical applications of the teachings and develop comprehensive avalanche knowledge – not to mention, how to find the best snow!

In order to keep yourself and others as safe as possible in the backcountry, an avalanche awareness course is an absolute must. Be a responsible skier and snowboarder. Check out the MSC avalanche course providers here. And remember to always respect the power of the mountains.  

Learn more about Adventure Consultants backcountry courses here.