To meet the expected influx of new backcountry skiers and still work within pandemic restrictions, the American Institute for Avalanche Research will publish much of its training materials online. Plus, AIARE will partner with Weston to offer up $15,000 in scholarships to LGBTQ, BIPOC, and female skiers, snowboarders, and instructors.
It’s going to be busy in the backcountry this season, especially with so much uncertainty around how resorts will handle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The American Institute for Avalanche Research — better known as AIARE — is updating its course curriculum to ensure that everyone who ventures out there comes back safely.
“Traveling in the backcountry is no joke,” said AIARE executive director Vickie Hormuth. “If folks don’t have access to education, we could be in a lot of trouble.”
This season, AIARE has uploaded its paper workbooks and in-person teachings into a virtual classroom. From home, students can take quizzes and play games to reinforce what they’re learning in the lessons. Students will also have continued online access even once they complete the certification.
The move is as much — if not more — a response to spiking demand as it is a move to meet concerns around the pandemic.
AIARE Embraces Online Education
In nonpandemic times, AIARE 1 — the most popular course — consists of three training days, a total of 24 hours, in the classroom and in the field. Each of AIARE’s 114 providers gets to decide how they’ll tailor the instructional days around the new digital tools. Some might keep the three-day schedule, while others might stretch it out to allow students to work on their own time.
However, the field days will still be required, Hormuth said, and the outdoor setting will make social distancing and wearing masks easier.
Hormuth expects classes to fill up quickly and suggests signing up early. Some providers like Colorado Mountain School in Boulder have already reported double the amount of signups over last year.
The AIARE team reimagined their courses because they were concerned about what they saw in March, when states closed many nonessential businesses. Hormuth said numerous people without avalanche safety certification took to the backcountry after resorts shut down.
AIARE also halted education six weeks early. This season will be different, though. “It’s not like running or hiking where you can just go outside,” Hormuth said. “It takes specialized equipment and it takes specialized training to really understand how to use that equipment because your life’s on the line.”
AIARE + Weston Scholarships
Backcountry gear and training are notoriously expensive and, therefore, exclusive. Weston, a manufacturer of split boards, skis, and snowboards, is teaming up with AIARE to offer full and partial “Powder to the People” scholarships.
These scholarships will award traditionally underrepresented people in the backcountry, such as women and members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities, who want to become AIARE 1 certified. Instructors can also receive funding.
Weston will contribute up to $15,000 — $4,750 for scholarships, $8,000 for instructor training, and $2,250 for AIARE admin — from the sale of select splitboards and skis.
The partnership marks an expansion of Weston’s efforts after it funded 37 women with Backcountry Babes last year.