Lack of on-snow snowmobile safety training is one of the leading factors that contribute to motorized avalanche accidents according to the 2022 U.S. Motorized Avalanche Fatalities Report released by avalanche safety educator Mike Duffy.
Duffy owns Avalanche1, a school that promotes and provides avalanche education for motorized mountain riders.
Broadly, motorized users include snowmobilers and snow bikers, which can be exposed to avalanche risks while traveling on groomed trails or roads, as well as in the backcountry.
Two other common variables were found across case studies, according to Duffy’s report.
Accidents often occurred when riders triggered slides on persistent weak layers of snow. And rescue times were usually lengthy due to inadequate safety gear or on-snow training and knowledge.
To help motorized travelers manage terrain and risk, a handful of snowmobile schools and guide service operations offer AIARE-certified motorized snow safety courses.
What is AIARE?
AIARE is The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, which is one of two primary organizations in the United States that lead the curriculum. The other is the American Avalanche Association (A3).
According to AIARE, 35% of avalanche fatalities nationwide were motorized users in the 2021/2022 winter season.
The last recorded loss of life of snowmobilers in Colorado was the season prior, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. In the Centennial State, four snowmobilers were caught in avalanches in three separate incidents. Three riders were partially buried, one was fully buried, and two perished.
At the start of the 2022 winter season, there are currently ten guide schools nationwide that partner with AIARE to provide certified motorized courses, a portion of which also meet the A3 guidelines.
What are avalanche safety courses?
The AIARE avalanche safety courses include three for recreational travelers.
Students can register for AIARE 1 followed by the AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course, which is a prerequisite for AIARE 2.
The single-day AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course is also available to be taken every season to practice technique and knowledge application.
The courses are progressive.
Motorized AIARE courses in Colorado
The current list of AIARE-certified motorized snow safety course providers includes two in the Centennial State:
Mountain Skillz with Matt Entz South Fork, Colorado Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue
Tyler’s Backcountry Awareness Fort Collins, Colorado Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue, Intro to Avalanches
Tyler’s Backcountry Awareness also teaches a unique Intro to Avalanches course, which is donation based and does not include an AIARE certificate. The course gives snowmobilers an opportunity to learn the basics of safety and rescue gear use or to get a refresher.
Motorized AIARE courses nationwide
The remaining schools countrywide that offer AIARE-certified motorized courses include:
The Mountain Riding Lab Jackson, Wyoming Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue
Ride Rasmussen Style West Yellowstone, Montana Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue
Alaska Avalanche School and Alaska Avalanche Information Center Anchorage, Alaska Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2
Wallowa Avalanche Center Joseph, Oregon Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue
Elevated Backcountry Bellingham, Washington Courses: Motorized AIARE 1, Motorized AIARE 2, Motorized AIARE Avalanche Rescue