PUBLISHED: 4:09 PM on Wednesday, December 5, 2007
In demand avalanche classes offered for spring of 2008
A love of traveling in the backcountry is not an uncommon one around Southeast Alaska, especially when it comes to those hard earned turns on skis or board through backcountry powder. A passion for winter backcountry travel and keeping safe in those conditions has made itself known through the rise in requests for more Avalanche courses. In spring of 2008 not only will there be an Avalanche level I course offered, but also an Avalanche level II.

Normally the level II course is only offered every other year as it usually takes that long to build up enough Level I students over a few seasons who want to take it. This year however there have been numerous people who have shown interest.

Bill Glude of the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center and main instructor for the courses in Juneau is excited to be able to offer the level II course on what would normally be an off year.

"We would love to do it more frequently so that ODS students would have more opportunity to take the course during their time here, " Glude said of the Outdoor studies students who's program runs the length of one year. All of the courses currently offered in Juneau are through the University, or guiding companies. Offering it through the University also allows the course fees to be somewhat cheaper compared to being offered by the Avalanche centers. It is approximately $372 for the level I and will be around the same for the level II.

Courtesy photo
  Mike Janes demonstrates how to conduct a snow stability test called an AK block, during an outing on Mt. Troy for an Avalanche level I course.
Anyone who participates in winter backcountry travel, skiers, snowboarders, snow machiners, hunters, climbers, rangers, land administrators or anyone involved in rescue would benefit from taking an Avalanche course. If you frequently find yourself out of bounds then taking these courses could save your life or someone else's.

People who sign up for these courses should be in good physical condition and have basic winter backcountry travelskills prior to the course.

The two levels being offered in the spring also may not be taken simultaneously.

The level I course presents a lot of material in the intensive two week time period. This spring, classroom sessions will be held in the evenings for both level I and level II in hopes that it will better accommodate those with day jobs, with outings on the weekends. "We are making this more accessible to the general public, not just university students any more, which also brings diversity to the classes," said Glude.

Level II goes into much greater depth than level I and assumes that the students taking it are in a position of leadership. "Whether you're a guide, youth group leader, or if you are just going to be out with friends, we teach this course with that leadership position in mind. If you take these courses, people are going to look to you for what to do in situations out there," Glude said, "People learn much more by practicing skills in the field. We want people to really own the knowledge. In the level II they will be writing a forecast every day and in the field have much more opportunity for snow experiments which they can follow up on week by week, observing them over time."

Experiential learning adds an element to our knowledge and our future practices unlike any other. Bill Glude who has been working in this field for over 30 years and has been studying snow for over 35 years since he was stuck in a slide in college remarks, "We can talk about snow and how it changes but it is another thing to observe it firsthand. A direct experience brings it to a whole other level."

The level II course is always a bit more challenging and requires a prerequisite of Avalanche level I certification at least a season prior. The course practices rescue from the standpoint not only of how to conduct a rescue but also teaches the skills to be able to train others and pass on rescue skills.

"Not only are students in this course capable of single beacon searches but will also learn multiple beacon searches. We work depending on the groups abilities, but level II is always more challenging terrain-wise and the students will have their note taking skills dialed. Level II is really fun because so much of the basic material is out of the way. Now they will be interacting, making more decisions. It is a little less structured and concentrates on coaching individual skills," said Glude.

A growing demand for the level I courses have also flourished. Level I is now growing to have three field groups, and they are working on including ski patrol to help teach the courses. Though this is not for certain yet, the hope is that by involving the ski patrol, students would have the opportunity to come out of the course with a ski patrol certification.

All courses are in accordance with the American Avalanche Association guidelines. In Alaska the courses are taught at an even higher level due to terrain and conditions.

As Glude said, "Our level I is taught almost at a level II and our level II at almost a level III." In Alaska a more in depth course certainly won't be at a disadvantage. Courses may be registered for through the University of Alaska Southeast. For more information visit