Level 1 Avalanche

Level 1 Avalanche Course

Decision Making in Avy Terrain

Our 3 day Level 1 Avalanche Course provides a complete introduction to the avalanche phenomenon, avalanche terrain, decision making, and rescue protocol. This course is 3 days long. This is a comprehensive course for those new to travel in avalanche terrain. Highlights include a small class size, professional level curriculum, and skier/snowboarder oriented instruction.

For the 2017/2018 season we are offering courses based out of both Durango and Ouray, CO. The logistics, classroom sessions, and field sessions differ based on the venue for the course. Give us a call if you have questions about which course location suits your preferences!

The SJMG Difference

We know that you have many choices when selecting where and with whom to take your Level 1 Avalanche Course. When considering these factors, keep in mind the following facts when making your decision. San Juan Mountain Guides has been offering formal avalanche courses since 1992. Our program and course curriculum has been meticulously customized by AMGA Certified Ski Mtn/IFMGA Guides and former Ski/Snow Patrol Professionals. We offer the most comprehensive access to terrain in the San Juan Mountains – from the Sneffels Range to both the North and South sides of Red Mountain Pass and all the way to Coal Bank Pass. No other guide service or avalanche school in the region can offer this variety of terrain as part of their program.

AVY Course Comparisons SJMG Others
25 Years of Experience YES ???
Customized by IFMGA/AMGA Ski Mtn Guides YES ???
Developed by Ski/Snow Patrol Pros YES ???
Taught by IFMGA/AMGA Trained Mtn Guides YES ???
Unlimited Terrain Access in San Juans YES ???
Course Options in Durango & Ouray YES ???
BC Skiing Components Taught YES ???
Hut Based Course Options YES ???

The Curriculum

While AIARE provides the framework for the Level 1 curriculum, our instructors have customized the instruction to maximize student learning outcomes as they relate to backcountry travel in a continental snowpack such as the San Juan Mountains. No other guide service combines our experience, knowledge-base, and access to backcountry ski terrain in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

Participants in the Level 1 Course can expect a minimum of about 8 hours of classroom instruction and about 16 hours of field instruction in the following subjects.

  • Types of avalanches
  • Characteristics of avalanches
  • How avalanches form and release
  • Assessing avalanche terrain
  • Trip planning and preparation
  • Route Finding
  • Decision making
  • Rescue protocols and procedures

The last day touring was awesome. Tied everything together (route selection, human interaction, snow obs. etc.). Highlight was the end when the 3 dummies were buried & we had to find them, simulating a live burial. It was stressful but a great learning experience! – Patti R.


Call 800.642.5389 to Reserve

Register Now Online

Avy 1 Itinerary

Day 1

Classroom day. Meet at our office at 0800 to finalize course paperwork. The group will then begin the classroom portion of the class. This will serve as a complete introduction to the course. There will be a 1 hour lunch and the day will finish at approximately 1700.

Day 2

Field session, 0800-1700. Today we will spend the entire day in the field on Molas Pass. Topics covered will include test pit construction, beacon searching, companion rescue. Instructors will demonstrate each topic and then students will practice under observation.

Day 3

Field session, 0800-1700. Today we will complete a tour on Red Mountain Pass. Students will be asked to make decisions with regard to route finding, and terrain management. We’ll select a slope to ski and assess the stability of the slope for descent purposes.

Backcountry Skiing Equipment List

  • Day-Tour Backpack: Internal frame, 25-40 liters.
  • Touring Skis or Splitboard: Skis with alpine-touring or telemark bindings (or splitboard).
  • Ski Boots or Snowboard Boots
  • Poles: Preferably adjustable
  • Climbing Skins
  • Avalanche Transceiver: with fresh batteries
  • Probe
  • Avy Shovel: metal blade is a must
  • Ski Helmet
  • Ski Repair Kit
  • Goggles


  • Socks: Wool or synthetic ski socks
  • Base Layers: Polyester or silk bottom and top
  • Mid-Weight Top : Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
  • Shell Pants: hard shell or soft shell. A pair with side vents are best.
  • Hard Shell Jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation.
  • Gloves: a pair of heavy gloves and a pair of medium or thin weight gloves
  • Down jacket or Insulated Parka
  • Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
  • Neck Gaiter or Balaclava: optional, but nice to have
  • Sunglasses

Other Stuff

  • Small Thermos: Optional, but nice to have
  • Water Bottles: 2 liters
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Headlamp
  • Toiletries
  • Personal First Aid Kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
  • Camera
  • Lunch Food & Snacks: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…


Participants will need to have an established method of backcountry travel for field days (skis or splitboard with skins, or snowshoes). These courses take place outside in winter conditions. All participants need to be prepared for physical exertion in cold and perhaps poor weather. Participants will need to have appropriate warm, winter clothing and gear.

1Before Your Trip

Skiing and/or squats: do it. Cardiovascular activities such as running, swimming, and cycling are great to build heart and lung endurance. Taking day hikes with your loaded backpack at a local park will help train your legs for the mileage you will do in the mountains.

2Follow Up Programs

I enjoyed being in the company of our instructors. It was an educational experience just watching them in their element. They rocked. Also, it was great to be hands-on in the field for 2 days; learning experimentally is the kicker for this and all technical skill courses. Getting ski beta and seeing terrain that I can go ski anytime was a great plus. This course seemed to also focus on the application for avy knowledge for the backcountry skier………Yes! – Taylor H.

Durango, Colorado: Getting Here

Durango is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip.

View Larger Map

Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Durango – La Plata County Airport. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport is a 20 minute drive from our office. Many hotels offer a free shuttle pickup. Buckhorn Limousine offers a shuttle as well.

Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Durango. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.

  • Denver, CO: 6 hours
  • Albuquerque, NM: 3 hours

Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suit you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.


Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:
  • AIARE Qualified Instructors and AMGA Certified/Trained Guides
  • AIARE Level 1 course manual
  • Course completion certificate
  • Level 1 Field Book
  • Use of avalanche probe, shovel, and beacon
  • Touring boots, skis, and climbing skins are available for rent from our shop for an additional cost.

  • Not Included:

  • Hotel costs before, during or after the courses
  • 5% land use surcharge
  • trip cancellation insurance
  • personal climbing, skiing, or camping equipment, or gratuities.
  • Instructor gratuity
  • Field lunches

  • Registration and Cancellation:
  • Advance Registration is required for this program.  You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System.  All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.

Call 800.642.5389 to Reserve

Register Now Online

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