Avalanche Skills Training

The Essential First Step to Safe Backcountry Use

View larger imageAST course in Newfoundland | Photo: Keith Nicol

In Canada we enjoy the world’s finest opportunities for snow related outdoor recreation. Each year increasing numbers of skiers, snowboarders, climbers and snowmobile riders are venturing into the mountains with their friends to enjoy these special natural places. Regrettably, each winter some of these people die in avalanches. The CAC believes the ability to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain and effectively rescue a member of the group buried by an avalanche are essential winter survival skills for outdoors enthusiasts. Avalanche Skills Training programs (formerly Recreational Avalanche Courses) are an essential first step to safe backcountry use in the winter.

Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Program Curriculum
With support from the National Search and Rescue Secretariat’s New Initiatives Fund, and the collaboration of the Canadian Ski Patrol System, the Alpine Club of Canada and others, the CAC has designed curriculum for Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 (AST) and Avalanche Skills Training Level 2 (formerly known as Introductory and Advanced RAC training), and produced high quality instructional materials, videos and reference books to promote effective learning progressions that emphasize the most important knowledge and skills. The CAC encourages and facilitates avalanche accident prevention in Canada by providing these training materials to numerous independent instructors who are CAA members in good standing. These individuals conduct AST programs as a small business or public service venture within their communities.

 AST Level 1 courses have a minimum of 7 hours of classroom instruction plus one full day in the field. This course, developed with the generous assistance of the National Search and Rescue Secretariat, covers the fundamentals of backcountry avalanche awareness and companion rescue. Click for an example of an AST Level 1 course outline.

AST Level 2 courses offer a minimum of 9.5 hours of classroom studies and 3 days of field instruction. Some instructors may offer AST Level 2 that is up to seven days in duration. Click for an example of an AST Level 2 course outline.

The Companion Rescue Skills course is a one-day field based course open to any backcountry recreationist. This course is all about the important steps in performing successful companion rescue, which is key for all people heading into the backcountry. There is no pre-requisite to take this course. Just like refreshing your first-aid certification, it's important to both learn and refresh your companion rescue skills each year. If you don't see a Companion Rescue Skills course offered in your area, please contact a local provider.

The AST trajectory is well suited to all backcountry recreationists whether skiing, boarding or snowmobiling. For anyone wanting to learn how to recognize avalanche terrain, how to choose safe routes in avalanche terrain and learn more about decision making, the AST 1 and AST 2 courses will give you a good start.

To see if there are courses in your region, go to this link: http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast/courses. Not all AST Providers post their courses on our website, so you can also find AST Providers in your region by going to this link: http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast/providers.

The CAC's role in AST programs
The CAC facilitates avalanche safety in Canada by developing nationally recognized avalanche course standards and providing support and instructional materials to independent instructors who in turn deliver AST programs. The CAC has developed minimum criteria for both AST Level 1 instructors, AST Level 2 and Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) instructors. AST Level 1 instructors have successfully completed a week long Level 1 – Operations course offered by the ITP and are active members of the Canadian Avalanche Association. AST Level 2 instructors have successfully completed ITP Level 2 – Operations training, are professional members of the Canadian Avalanche Association, and have at least four years of operational experience in the avalanche industry. Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) instructors minimally have the same credentials as an AST 1 instructor. Persons considering enrollment in AST programs are urged to inquire about the training, experience and instructional history of the course instructor(s), and satisfy themselves that the AST program they are considering will meet their needs.

Bearing in mind the significant advantages of taking a course from instructors on the CAC list of AST providers, there are certain limitations of CAC responsibility for AST courses that are important for you to note:

  • The CAC does not certify AST instructors or monitor their performance as instructors.
  • The CAC does not supervise or control the classroom or outdoors activities or safety decisions of AST instructors.
  • The CAC does not choose the terrain or monitor the conditions for AST field sessions.
  • Instructors teaching Avalanche Skills Training courses are not employees, agents, representatives, independent contractors or subcontractors of the CAC.
  • The CAC assumes no liability for loss, injury or death incurred during participation in AST training.

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