Online Level 1 Avalanche Course

Avalanche Class Module Description - Field Day #1

Main Course Description Page


This is the online module for the first field day of the Level 1 Avalanche Class developed and supported by AlpenPro and offered here in the Avalanche Institute. This field day covers the Level 1 material covered up to this point. It is a no-snowpit day and emphasizes the "big picture" that one develops using the prerequisite material.

The prerequisites are Modules 1-6. You must have credit for those to attend this field day, or to proceed to do it independently. This field day will utilize, reinforce, and assess your understanding of and ability to apply the material in those modules.

One day outdoors in the field is required for this module. In the traditional 24 hour course this was one of 2 field days, and there was also all of the classroom work to get done. So it is not a long day. This first field day is also conducive to splitting into two half-days in some situations and locations.

This online module for the field day will present the goals and objectives, define the tasks to be done, and require a write-up afterwards.


This online module provides the framework for the first field day, whether it is done self-directed, with AlpenPro, or with another provider.

The ability to do this self-directed is no doubt controversial. Even in the development stages, several years before being really open to the public for enrollment, one professional sent a very cynical email concerning this option. He seems to feel that the only way to learn in the field is to follow somebody like him around for a day. We feel this expert-to-student one-way attempt at transferring knowledge is not the most effective. The two approaches can be compared to academic courses, and technical ones in particular.

Students in academic technical courses generally need to do problems, and in more advanced courses projects, on their own to master the material. Those that merely show up for lectures and listen to the professor generally do not do passing work on assessments (i.e. exams). The professional who sent us negative email is like the old professor who claims you need to sit in class and learn everything directly from him (or her). The more astute students often drop these classes.

However, for students to be successful at projects and problem-solving on their own they require a certain framework. The academic role of a good professor is to provide this. We hope that we can do the same thing here.

Our goal is to:

  • Make sure you have the background you need to do the field day and be successful. Modules 1-6 fulfill this role.
  • Give you clear objectives so you know exactly what you should be accomplishing on this field day.
  • Provide guidelines so that you can successfully meet these objectives
  • Advise you as necessary to assist you in your progress
  • Assess your experience through a review of your post-trip report
  • Provide feedback afterward to answer any questions and clarify anything necessary
This approach requires that the student be actively engaged in the field work from beginning through the end.

General Description

Field day #1 applies the material from Modules 1-6. This means there are no snowpits. Snowpits can be interesting, and they will be covered later in the course. However, they are rather low on the ordered list of important topics and skills. One reason for having an entire field day without them is to emphasize the development of a "big picture", beginning at home with refinement throughout the trip (or day). Students will synthesize weather and snowpack information and observations to come up with an overall opinion of stability. Terrain and possible routes will be considered both on their own merits (or lack thereof) and also in the context of the current stability situation.

Rescue equipment and skills have also been covered in the prerequisites and these are part of the first field day.

In the traditional format it was typical to spend the morning working with beacons and the afternoon taking a short tour, with a lunch break in between. Since we had to return to classroom material an effort was made to finish early. This means that students working independently can split the day up in a similar manner, even doing the beacon practice on one day and the tour on another.

This is an important part of the learning experience and not a day of skiing for its own sake. A common question when people consider avalanche classes is whether they will get any good skiing or riding in. That is not the purpose of a course, and such a desire would be better served through a day of private guiding without instruction being a priority. Students are expected to dedicate their field time to course objectives and not attempt to squeeze it in between runs. Any good skiing or riding should be considered a bonus. (Actually some of the most interesting conditions for learning about snow are not conducive to quality skiing and/or terrain beyond benign.)


  • Become fully familiar in the field with your beacon, if you own one
  • Become familiar with, and compare, different beacons if you are still making a purchase decision
  • Practice an overall rescue scenario
  • Anticipate weather and snowpack conditions before leaving home
  • Refine your opinion of conditions enroute to and at the trailhead
  • Further refine your snowpack "big picture" through on-the-go testing, including hasty pits
  • Identify various types of terrain and choose safe routes
  • Safe Travel Protocols should be utilized throughout the day


The field day applies and reinforces these topics:

  • Rescue - Equipment Use and Scenario Management (Modules 2,3)
  • Implementation of Safe Travel Protocols (Module 2)
  • Development and Refinement of a "Big Picture" for weather and snow stability (Modules 4,5)
  • Terrain recognition and assessment, and routefinding (Module 6)


Students are required to submit a brief written summary of the field day, what they observed and learned, and any lingering questions they may still have. The idea is to require the student to reflect on the field experience and identify and consolidate what they learned from the experience.