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5 Ways to Improve Your Avalanche Skills at Home

5 Ways to Improve Your Avalanche Skills at Home

Our friends over at the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) are still putting out forecasts for spring touring, but with the knowledge that backcountry skiing right now is an iffy pursuit. From big crowds skinning up at now-closed resorts and packed trailhead parking lots, to the lack of capacity for emergency personnel to respond to accidents, this may not be the best time to venture into the backcountry. 

Even if you can’t tour right now, you can still brush up on your avalanche skills at home. From free online courses to ideas for practicing with your equipment in your backyard, here are five tips from the UAC on how to polish up your avy skills right right now.

Read an avalanche book

From snow science to accident reports, here are some great books you can read to expand your avalanche skills. 

    • Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper: Authored by a retired Utah Avalanche Center Director and now in its 3rd edition, this is one of the best resources out there. A must-read for any backcountry traveler. 
    • The Snowy Torrents by Knox Williams and Spencer Logan: This book takes an in-depth look at avalanche accidents, offering a great way to learn from mistakes that have already been made.
    • Allen & Mike’s Avalanche Book: A Guide To Staying Safe In Avalanche Terrain by Mike Clelland and Allen O’bannon. This guide distills snow science to a user-friendly format with great illustrations.
    • The Avalanche Review (TAR): Published by the American Avalanche Association (A3), this journal features the best in avalanche writing and research. Past issues are available on the A3 website, and A3 is offering a free digital copy of the April issue for those who sign up. Consider joining A3 in order to get the print version throughout the season.

Take an online course

Learning about avalanches is the best way to travel in the backcountry safely. While online courses are not meant to replace on-the-mountain Avy 1 classes, they are a decent primer for beginners or experts in need of a refresher. Anyone who wants to learn more about avalanche safety skills and how to avoid slides will benefit. Here are our favorite free online courses.

  1. UAC’s Know Before You Go (KGYG) eLearning Program: Interactive learning content builds on the 5 KBYG points. You’ll come away familiar with essential avalanche safety gear and how to practice with it, as well as with an introduction to avalanche forecasts and travel.
  2. Backcountry Access (BCA) Video Series: This BCA video series includes everything from avalanche rescue and research, to success stories from the backcountry.
  3. New Zealand Online Avalanche Course: A rich collection of photos, videos, and text takes you through the basics of traveling in avalanche terrain, efficiently covering all the topics you’d encounter in an avalanche class. This course includes an interactive game that lets you test your ability to make navigation choices in complex terrain. This content is for a Southern Hemisphere audience, so flip south and north aspects in your head if you’re watching north of the equator.

Practice Rescue Techniques

You don’t need mountains or snow to brush up on your beacon skills. Have a family member or roommate hide a beacon in your backyard or in your house (try the couch cushions and you may be surprised at what else you find) to practice your signal search, coarse search, and fine search skills. You could also practice assembling your probe and shovel in record time—have a speed contest with your buddy over FaceTime!

Listen to a live stream

Since all in-person events have been canceled, avalanche centers like the UAC are live streaming talks. Follow @utavy on Instagram to tune into our next live stream talk, and search for your local avalanche center to see if they’re doing the same. We’ll be covering everything from “Know Before You Go” to terrain management and the state of the local snowpack.


Catch up on current and past episodes  of avalanche podcasts

Utah Avalanche Center Podcast

The Avalanche Hour Podcast

Slide – The Avalanche Podcast

A number of avalanche professionals and centers share lessons learned and other stories via podcasts. This is also a great way to take a deep dive into specific avalanche topics, digging into the details of subjects that don’t always lend themselves to simple explanations and responses. Following these regularly is a great way to learn from a wide range of experts from different regions, often with new and different perspectives.