Professional Training

Photo by Lindsey Fell

Background

Over a period of four years beginning in October 2013, the AAA Pro Training Program has been collaboratively designed and reviewed by stakeholders from across the avalanche industry in the United States. The goals of the Pro Training Program are to provide high quality, consistent professional avalanche training in the US and to increase accessibility to such opportunities for avalanche workers around the country.

The AAA Pro Training Program is part of a larger effort by the AAA and stakeholders from across the avalanche industry to create separate progressions for recreationists and professionals after the Level 1 course. This split in training progressions seeks to better meet the educational needs of each group – recreationists and professionals. The AAA has led this process as the organization in the United States that connects, engages, and shares information amongst avalanche professionals from all segments of the industry and across all geographical regions of the country. An inclusive and unifying professional organization, the AAA has engaged diverse industry stakeholders to design this program while keeping the best interests of the entire avalanche industry in mind.

Recreational and Professional Avalanche Training Progressions

American Avalanche Education Pro Rec Flowchart

Supporting Documents






Frequently Asked Questions





Changes!? Why change anything? Didn’t my courses teach me everything I needed?

In October 2013 the American Avalanche Association (AAA) hosted a meeting with a diverse cross-section of avalanche industry representatives to discuss the question “Is there a need to revise the framework of avalanche education in the United States?” The group identified the following areas for improvement within the existing system:

  • Existing avalanche education courses mix professional and recreational students, particularly in Level 2 classes; separate courses for professionals and recreationists may better meet the training needs of both groups.
  • Students in current Level 2 courses are not tested; a thorough evaluation process could allow for demonstration of course comprehension and skill development, especially valuable for professionals.
  • Some existing professional-level courses have parallel topics and learning outcomes yet no clear measure of equivalency; a common system for professional training could increase course consistency and provide clear course equivalencies.
  • Without a single, clear training progression it can be difficult for employers to evaluate the skills of prospective employees, and can sometimes result in redundant training; again, a common system for professional training could address these challenges.
  • Increased consistency in professional training could help improve workplace safety.

The participants at this meeting concluded that separate professional and recreational avalanche training streams could better achieve course outcomes and meet distinct training needs for both groups. The AAA stepped into a leadership role to spearhead this project at the request of meeting participants. Stakeholders who have helped develop the Pro Training Program acknowledge the need to embrace common training standards and support course consistency in order to better serve the interests of the avalanche industry, education, and workplace safety.

An AAA-facilitated working group, that included representatives from each of the current major providers of professional avalanche training, produced an initial proposal that was presented to the industry for review and feedback in fall of 2014. Subsequently, the AAA Pro Training Program was developed with extensive and continued collaboration and input from course providers and other stakeholders from around the industry. The resulting Pro Training courses will be offered by AAA-approved Pro Course Providers beginning winter 2017/18.

The AAA Pro Training Program is an industry-designed program that is an important piece in the training puzzle to help our industry continue to improve on our collective professionalism. The AAA’s program complements in-house training opportunities, specific on-the-job experience, ongoing professional mentorship, and other sources of continuing professional development. It is important to note that the Pro Training Program does not replace these other integral pieces of the professional avalanche training puzzle but, rather, works in a collaborative, complementary manner to increase the effectiveness of all training for avalanche professionals. With the development and launch of this new program, the AAA and stakeholders are not saying that prior training and experience are not valuable or relevant; we are saying that we can do better as an industry as we move into the future.

Why is the AAA responsible for this new program?

The AAA is the organization in the United States that connects, engages with, and shares information amongst avalanche professionals from all segments of the industry and across all regions of the country.  Since 1999, the AAA has published avalanche education guidelines for the U.S. and has provided unification and direction for a broad range of avalanche education and training organizations. The AAA has spearheaded efforts to develop this new avalanche education paradigm, drawing stakeholders together from across the country to collaborate on Pro Training Program vision and details. The AAA’s role as a connector and unifier within the industry enables the organization to maintain a broad view of what may be best for the avalanche industry as a whole and makes the AAA a natural fit to oversee the Pro Training Program.

What are the changes?

The AAA Guidelines for Avalanche Education in the United States continue to provide a common benchmark for recreational avalanche courses.  These guidelines address Avalanche Awareness, Level 1 Avalanche Training (Level 1), Avalanche Rescue, and Level 2 Avalanche Training (Level 2).  The AAA recommends that all winter backcountry users begin their training with Avalanche Awareness (optional), Level 1, and Avalanche Rescue courses. The split in the training progressions for recreationists and professionals follows these common trainings, to better serve the particular training and skill development needs of each group (see graphic training diagram in main content).

The Level 2 is the next step for recreationalists, emphasizing advanced decision-making, small-group leadership, providing focused mentorship traveling in challenging and complex avalanche terrain. This course is recommended for all advancing recreationists who continue to travel in the backcountry after their Level 1 course.

 

Current and aspiring avalanche professionals proceed to the Professional Avalanche Training 1 (Pro 1) course after the Level 1 and Avalanche Rescue courses.   The Pro 1 focuses on skill development that enables the student to be a contributing member of an operational avalanche program.  The Professional Avalanche Training 2 (Pro 2) focuses on skill development that supports the student moving into a leadership role within an operational avalanche program.

 

All Pro Training courses will involve a pass/fail evaluation process.  Proficient students will receive a course certificate from the AAA and their course provider.  The AAA will stand behind the course certificate of a proficient student as long as that person maintains current membership with the AAA and completes any recommended Continuing Professional Development.

Who should take these Professional Courses?

As the professional avalanche community in the U.S. makes the transition over the next few years from the existing system, the new AAA Pro Training courses - the Pro 1, Pro 2, and ProSAR courses - offer valuable, relevant skill development for avalanche workers at a variety of points in their careers. These programs provide a clear path for avalanche workers just entering the industry, as well as serve as excellent resources for seasoned professionals to gain the most current updates and refresh their skills.

Professional Avalanche Training 1 (Pro 1) is appropriate for entry-level avalanche professionals newly employed or seeking employment within the industry as well as seasoned avalanche professionals who wish to refresh their skills and get up to speed with current updates and practices.

Professional Avalanche Training 2 (Pro 2) is designed for developing avalanche professionals with several seasons of applied professional experience as well as seasoned professionals who are looking to develop skills applicable to leadership roles within their operation.
The Professional Avalanche Search and Rescue (ProAvSAR) course stands alone to support professional SAR programs and operations.  ProSAR students may or may not have taken another course in the Pro Training progression.  Anticipated ProAvSAR launch for winter 2018/19.

Who will teach Pro Training Courses?

Professional courses will be offered by AAA-approved Pro Course Providers.  Numerous current course providers plan to become AAA-approved Pro Course Providers (e.g. AAI, AIARE, NAS), and any organization can choose to apply for AAA-approval to offer Pro Training courses. The AAA has defined a review process to approve Pro Course Providers that includes a review of course documents and details, a formal agreement between the course provider and the AAA, and an on-site course review.  All Pro Course Providers will be held to specific standards for staffing their Pro courses with qualified pro course instructors.  Qualifications vary depending on the course and whether an individual will be a lead or assistant instructor.  The AAA offers annual Pro Trainer Workshops as part of the Pro Course instructor training process.  All Pro course instructors will need to participate in an AAA-run workshop or an equivalent in-house training for familiarization with the AAA Pro Training Program, specific course skills and proficiencies, and consistent evaluation practices.  Check back for an up-to-date list of currently approved Pro Course Providers starting in fall 2017.

What do the new Pro Training courses look like?

Below are brief overviews of the new Pro Training Program courses.  For more specific details on skills, proficiencies, and evaluation standards see the corresponding Guidelines and Proficiencies documents.

Pro 1 Course:
This course focuses on skills and proficiencies to enable the student to be a contributing member of an operational avalanche program. The student will be taught the proficiencies to be a skilled observer and to contribute opinions during risk management discussions.
Minimum Course Length: 5 days
Student: Instructor Ratio: 6:1
Student Requirements for Enrollment (1-3 all required):

  1. Course applicants have completed the following AAA-recognized courses prior to enrollment:  

    1. Level 1 Avalanche Training
    2. Avalanche Rescue

Applicants who believe they have the educational equivalent of the above-listed prerequisites can apply to the AAA for a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) review.

 

  1. One winter season (20 days or more) of relevant experience (demonstrated through one of following).

    1. Prior avalanche work experience; OR

    2. A supervised unpaid work internship in the guiding/avalanche industry supported by a letter of reference; OR

    3. Letter of recommendation from AAA Professional member; OR

    4. AAA Membership (Affiliate or Professional); OR

    5. Winter backcountry travel experience supported by documented trip planning and recorded field observations that contributed to avalanche hazard assessment and personal avalanche risk management.
  1. To receive AAA certificate upon successful course completion, student must pay his/her AAA Pro Course fee and be a current member, or complete and submit application to become a member, of the AAA.

 

 
Pro 2 Course:
This course focuses on skills and proficiencies that enable the student to step into a leadership role within an operational avalanche program. The student will be taught proficiencies to develop operational risk management decision-making skills, including forecasting, risk mitigation strategies, and professional communication.
Minimum Course Length: 6 days
Student Instructor Ratio: 5:1
Student Requirements for Enrollment (1 – 4 all required):

  1. Course applicants have completed the following AAA-recognized courses prior to enrollment:  

    1. Pro 1 Certificate

    2. Avalanche Rescue

Applicants who believe they have the educational equivalent of the above-listed prerequisites can apply to the AAA for a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) review.  

 

  1. Work Experience

    1. A minimum of 40 days of operational avalanche experience over two winter seasons, and

    2. Letter of recommendation from a supervisor (AAA Pro Member recommended) verifying:

      • 40 days minimum work experience over two operating seasons (note, this can be in the same year if the worker has worked in both the northern and southern hemispheres). This includes participation as a team member, attending daily ops meetings, and participation in operational activities that requires avalanche risk management.

      • Avalanche rescue (companion) practices with team leader responsibility. The applicant has participated in multi-team organized avalanche rescue exercise(s).

      • The applicant is able to complete the tasks required of a route leader or ski guide.

 

  1. Submit examples of the following professional documentation:

    1. two profiles, two operational meeting forms, two pages from two days of field observations

  2. To receive AAA certificate upon successful course completion, student must pay his/her AAA Pro Course fee and be a current member, or complete and submit application to become a member, of the AAA.

 

ProSAR Course:

 

Specific skills and proficiencies of the ProSAR course are currently being finalized.  The AAA anticipates that these courses will become an official part of the Pro Training Program starting in winter 2018/19.

 

I’ve been working for many years as an avalanche professional. Will my prior training and experience be recognized?

Yes!  The AAA definitely recognizes and values the experience and training of current avalanche professionals.  We’re all coming from that previous system where a LOT of variability exists in formal and informal training and professional paths.  The AAA has defined a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) process and table of recognized training equivalencies to help bridge between the old and new systems.  Ultimately, the AAA seeks to be as inclusive as possible in applying these tools while still maintaining a level of consistency that supports the transition to the new system.  Individuals who believe they have equivalent training and experience can apply to the AAA for a PLA review if/as needed for pro course enrollment and/or to fulfill a requirement of employment.  See the Prior Learning Assessment document for specific details.

What is the Pro 1 Bridge course?

The Pro 1 Bridge course is an opportunity for individuals who currently have a Level 2 (in the “old” system of avalanche education) to gain recognition in the new Pro Training Program at the Pro 1 level.  AAA-approved Pro Course Providers will offer these 1.5-2 day courses starting in the 2017/18 winter season.  The focus of the Pro 1 Bridge will be on evaluating the skills of each student at the Pro 1 standard.  A student planning to participate in a Pro 1 Bridge course MUST be familiar with the Pro 1 evaluation standards and practiced with the techniques that will be evaluated during the condensed course.  Course providers may provide specific pre-course materials to help ensure students are prepared to demonstrate their competency during the Pro 1 Bridge course.  Prior practice and preparation are essential to successfully passing a Pro 1 Bridge course and gaining recognized equivalency at the Pro 1 standard.

What are the changes to course prerequisites?

Though course requirements in the current system vary to a certain degree by course provider, the table below highlights the main differences in student requirements for enrollment.

Current Level 2

Pro 1 (see specific details above) - Highlights indicate notable differences

  • Prior completion of a Level 1 avalanche course.

  • A minimum of one season applying skills and tools learned on the Level 1.

  • Prior completion of a Level 1 avalanche course.

  • Prior completion of an Avalanche Rescue course.

  • Demonstration of a minimum of one winter season (20 days or more) of relevant experience.

  • AAA membership (or completed application) prior to course participation.

Current Level 3

Pro 2 (see specific details above)

  • Prior completion of a Level 2 avalanche course.

  • A minimum of one season applying skills and tools learned on Level 2.

  • Submission of 20 documented tours in avalanche terrain and 10 recent snow profiles.

  • Must be able to find two buried transceivers in a 30m x 30m area in 7 minutes.

  • Experience leading a team in a rescue scenario.

  • Prior successful completion of a Pro 1 course.

  • Prior completion of an Avalanche Rescue course.

  • Work experience: A minimum of 40 days of operational avalanche experience over two winter seasons.

  • A letter of reference from a supervisor to verify work experience.

  • Prior participation in a multi-team organized avalanche rescue exercise(s).

  • Submission of two profiles, two operational meeting forms, two pages from two days of field observations.

  • Current AAA member.