Avalanche courses have become an essential training tool for snowshoers, backcountry skiers, snowmobilers and ice climbers. The Avalanche Skills Training level 1 (AST 1) by Yamnuska Mountain Adventures is specifically designed to give backcountry adventurists and other recreationists introductory knowledge to avalanche hazards. As a supporting sponsor of Avalanche Canada, we strictly adhere to the national curriculum while at the same time exposing you to the expertise of our full-time professional guides. Our instructors are ACMG certified guides and professional members of the Canadian Avalanche Association – in other words, they are working practitioners. In addition to their expert technical skills, our avalanche instructors are selected based on their ability to teach in an interesting and informative manner.
Our classroom days in Canmore and Calgary are full instructional days dedicated to the theoretical study of avalanche types and terrain. Then on the second day, we travel to field locations in Banff National Park or Kananaskis Provincial Park for some hands-on training.
Winter activities in the Canadian Rockies are growing in popularity. An introductory avalanche skills course will help you identify avalanche hazards and minimize unnecessary exposure to risk. Winter is an amazing time to explore the mountains, but safety is paramount.
We consistently get superb feedback from our avalanche skills training course students. For your convenience, we offer classroom courses in both Calgary and Canmore. We can offer private courses in British Columbia and Alberta.
Our Canmore and Calgary courses fill quickly with many people booking both the AST 1 and AST 2 courses. Take advantage of our Winter promotion to receive a 10% discount when you book our AST 1 and AST 2 courses at the same time. This is a great value.
Join us for an additional day of backcountry skiing every day following our AST 1 course. Sign up for our ‘Plus Day’ add-on option where you’ll get the opportunity to put into practice all of the AST 1 skills: route selection, terrain recognition and assessment, group management and safe travel practices and snow study opportunities where appropriate.
Day 1 (At our Classroom in Canmore or our Lecture Room at MEC in Calgary)
9:30 am in Canmore or 10:00 am in Calgary
- Group introductions, goals and objectives for the AST 1 Course, backcountry risks, agenda review, waivers
- Avalanche phenomena and the implications to us
- Avalanche formation
- Characteristics of avalanches, triggers and
- Avalanche Terrain Recognition
- Introduction to the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES)
- Mountain snowpack and snow metamorphism
- Lunch break
- Assessing and reducing avalanche risk
- Accessing and utilizing the Avalanche Danger Scale and Public Avalanche Bulletins
- Using the Avaluator™
- Human factors and decision making
- Safe travel and trip planning components
- Companion Rescue
- Avalanche transceivers
- Discuss logistics for the Field Day
4:30 – 5:00 pm
- Class ends
Canmore Course: We meet at Bow Summit, on Highway 93, 40 km north of Lake Louise (on rare occasions we may head to selected areas of Kananaskis Country or Banff National Park). Your instructor will provide meeting details on the classroom day.
Calgary Course: Typically, we will utilize locations in Kananaskis Country or Banff Park. If snow conditions are marginal we may go to Bow Summit. Your instructor will provide meeting details on the classroom day.
- Meet, issue avalanche training gear and introduce additional field day instructors
- Weather and public avalanche bulletin discussion
- Field observations (Wind, Precipitation, Temperature)
- Transceivers and companion rescue practice
- Managing and reducing risk in avalanche terrain
- Route selection, track setting and terrain recognition
- Snow study profile, stability tests and identifying layers of concern
- Group rescue scenario – response and priorities
- Next level avalanche training
- AST certificate presentation
- End of course!
NOTE ON RISK: The course takes place in a backcountry winter environment. Conditions can be harsh and you need to be adequately dressed to enhance your comfort and learning. During the field day, we will be on the periphery of avalanche terrain however, we do limit our exposure to avalanches so that we can operate in the program area no matter what the avalanche danger is for that given day. All our guides/instructors have advanced first aid certification and carry first aid kits as well as emergency communication. The course is designed to provide a good platform for learning and is not meant to be overly physically challenging or to put you at risk. Our focus is on instruction so we find appropriate avalanche study areas close to the road to maximize your avalanche education.
NOTE: Agenda may vary with field conditions and group abilities. A short tour of up to two kilometres is integral on the field day but if you’re not a skier, snowshoes are adequate. It is important that you be properly equipped for a full day in the backcountry in winter conditions (see gear tab).
AST Plus Day Join us for an additional day of backcountry skiing every Monday following our AST 1 course. Sign up for our ‘Plus Day’ add-on option where you’ll get the opportunity to put into practice all the AST 1 skills: Managing Avalanche terrain, route selection, terrain recognition and assessment, group management and safe travel practices and snow study opportunities where appropriate. (Must be on skis or splitboard. Minimum intermediate skier at a ski hill. Must be 18 years of age or older unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.)
Instructors and Group Size
Yamnuska AST 1 instructors are ACMG and IFMGA guides and professional members of the Canadian Avalanche Association. Our instructors are certified CAA Level 2 Avalanche Operations and several of our guides are CAA Level 3 Avalanche Operations, the highest certification level in the CAA. They are true practitioners with years and in some cases, decades of experience in the backcountry, practicing what they preach. Yamnuska has been offering Avalanche courses since the late 1970s. We have been instrumental in the curriculum development of the AST 1 course and are proud of our rich history in training recreationists in Canada. We are a Founding Supplier sponsor of Avalanche Canada.
On the field day, there is a maximum of 8 participants per instructor.
Canmore courses begin at 9:30 am on the first morning at the Yamnuska office in Canmore. Our office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore Alberta. See print this map of the location. Please note that the field trip will be to Bow Summit, which is 120km west of Canmore.
Calgary courses begin at 10:00 am on the first morning at the Calgary Mountain Equipment Co-op Building, located at 830, 10th Avenue SW, Calgary. We ask that students attending this course find alternative parking rather than taking up spaces in MEC’s customer parking lot for the day. Please note that the field trip for the Calgary course will be either Kananaskis Country or Banff National Park west of Calgary.
Participants are responsible for their own transport to Calgary, Canmore and on the field days.
Accommodation and Meals
These are not included in the course fees. There are many options available including hostels, motels and hotels in Canmore. Check rates as prices can vary significantly during the winter.
Yamnuska guests receive exclusive rates with Clique Hotels & Resorts upon booking an adventure with either Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska. (Please note that some rates are non-refundable)
Food is not supplied. On the classroom day, we will take a one hour break for lunch as well as several smaller breaks. Coffee, tea and water are available free of charge at our office for Canmore based courses. We have a microwave oven that students can use to heat lunches. MEC has multiple cafe’s close by which you can go to, or you may bring your own lunch.
On the field day, it is important to have lots of snack type high energy foods as well as at least one litre of fluid. We highly recommend bringing a Thermos type container for a hot drink. Due to the nature of the environment and winter temperatures, we will often snack along the way and may not take an extended break for lunch.
Equipment and Clothing
Day one of the AST is an indoor session in our classroom, dress casually and comfortably. Yamnuska supplies course manual, Companion Rescue Card and AvaluatorTM. Please bring a pen and notebook.
On the field day, Yamnuska will supply an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and avalanche shovel. We also supply group snow study kits and snow saws.
- Skis: ‘Alpine Touring with touring bindings’ or ‘Telemark’. We recommend a short (160 – 185 cm) wide ski designed for powder and ski touring. Please see note under rental information if you are renting ski equipment.
- Split board: with split board skins. Should be a proficient rider and practiced with transitions from touring to riding
- Snowshoes: Minimum 25inch length is recommended
- Ski poles: recommended for all modes of travel
- Climbing skins ‘Stick-on type’ (only required if using skis or split boards)
- Boots: appropriate for your mode of snow travel. Snowshoe boots need to be good warm winter boots, gaiters are recommended on lower cut snowshoe boots
- Day pack: large enough for spare clothes, lunch, shovel and probe. 30-litre minimum size recommended
- Avalanche transceiver with fresh batteries: digital transceiver with a triple antenna. If you have an older type, double antennae, we recommend you upgrade. We will supply if you don`t have your own.
- Avalanche shovel: Collapsible metal shovel designed for companion rescue. We will supply if you don`t have your own.
- Avalanche probe: We will supply if you don`t have your own.
- Sunglasses and/or ski goggles
- Thermos flask and/or water bottle (1 – 2 Liters). Hydration packs are not recommended as tubes freeze.
- Small Blister and Personal 1st-Aid Kit
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures uses state of the art avalanche companion rescue gear on all of our courses. We will supply transceivers, probes and shovels at no cost if you do not have this equipment.
- Chemical hand warmerétoe warmer packets
Yamnuska supplies but feel free to bring anyway:
- Snow saw
- Snow Study Kit
On the field day, there can be prolonged periods of inactivity in very cold temperatures. Don’t be afraid to bring extra layers as we don’t travel great distances. We suggest bringing clothing of varying thicknesses that can be ‘layered’ to achieve comfort and versatility. The most important consideration for clothing is the ability to regulate temperature as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. Cotton clothing is not appropriate as it causes rapid heat loss when wet. Below is our recommended list:
- Base Layers (top and bottom). They should be synthetic such as Capilene or Merino Wool. Patagonia Capilene and Merino baselayers are good options.
- Warm pants (softshell, hardshell,)
- Warm shirt (not cotton)
- Sweater or fleece jacket
- Insulated jacket or vest. This is essential for staying warm while taking breaks or when the weather gets really cold. The Patagonia Down Fitz Roy jacket is a good example of a warm insulated jacket.
- Water-resistant jacket, hardshell or softshell. A hardshell set up is essential when the weather turns wet. Gore-Tex™, H2NO™ or similar material works great. The Patagonia Torrentshell is a good example of a waterproof jacket.
- Socks (wool or synthetic, not cotton). A good pair of socks goes a long way to preventing blisters, especially in rental boots.
- Wool or fleece hat that covers the ears
- Warm gloves and light glove liner
- Ski helmet recommended for skiers and riders
Skis, Boots, Boards, Skins, Snowshoes & Poles can be rented from:
- Calgary: Mountain Equipment Co-op. – 830-10 Ave. S.W. Calgary (Tel: 403 269-2420)
- Canmore: Gear Up – 1302 Bow Valley Trail (403 678-1636)
*Please note that your ‘DIN’ or ‘Release Value’ settings on your ski bindings are critical to your safety while skiing. Our expectation is that everyone arrives on programs with their ski binding’s release value correctly set. We have noted that due to liability concerns, some ski rental shops will not set release values on touring bindings. We advise you to rent from a shop that will set release values on your ski touring bindings unless you are proficient and comfortable setting your own DIN/release value. Failure to have Release Values correctly set could result in a serious injury.
Feel free to call our office 403-678-4164, if you have any questions about appropriate clothing or gear for the course and one of our reservations or operations staff will be happy to help you.
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. We require full payment on booking. As a leading avalanche course provider, our courses do fill quickly. Many people book the AST 1 and AST 2 at the same time.
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident while here. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for a rescue so long as you have a valid National Park Entry Pass which you can obtain on entry to Banff National Park (cost $9).
Please make yourself familiar with our detailed booking instructions and conditions.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the program. Please view our sample waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the national and provincial parks, however, costs such as air or ground transportation, long term care and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries and other unplanned events. For these eventualities, the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s trip.
$225 CDN includes instruction, classroom materials, and avalanche safety equipment. You will need to bring adequate clothing and equipment for a backcountry ski tour (or snowshoes). GST is extra.
Participants will receive a 10% discount code to be used towards any rafting trip with Wild Water Adventures (valid for the following summer).
Special: Book an AST 1 and AST 2 at the same time and receive a 10% discount on both programs! NOT applicable for the AST 2 based at Purcell Lodge.
$225 CDN for the ‘Plus Day’
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Is it for you?
The focus of this program is avalanche theory and instruction via Avalanche Canada’s avalanche skills training curriculum. Our first day will be in the classroom in Calgary or Canmore learning about the weather and snow conditions that lead to avalanches. This is a full and intensive instructional day that is content-heavy. The second day will be a field trip to a backcountry location where we will be travelling either by backcountry ski gear or snowshoes to a variety of different snow study sites. This can involve up to 5 km of travel and up to 250 m of elevation gain. Students must be able to travel on backcountry skis, split-board or snowshoes and should have a normal level of fitness. Our field day is not a typical backcountry ski day. We have a lot of curriculum to cover so we try to minimize travel and use training locations that are appropriate but quickly accessed. We do offer a ‘plus day’ option at the end of each course that allows you to put your newly learned skills to a practical application via a ski or split-board touring day trip.
The minimum age is 13. We recommend participants 13-15 be accompanied by a parent. Note that transportation is not provided on this course. Participants will need to provide their own transportation or have it provided for them by a parent or friend.
This course is two days of intensive learning. The first day is classroom-based and the second day is in the backcountry learning and practicing recreational avalanche safety and training skills. It is a fast-paced course with a curriculum developed by Avalanche Canada and refined by Yamnuska’s operations team and avalanche instructors. Upon completion of the course, you will receive an Avalanche Skills Training 1 Certificate. The AST1 is the prerequisite for the professional level Avalanche Operations Level 1 and our Avalanche Skills Training 2 course.
Advanced Avalanche Training and Theory
AST 1 is the prerequisite for our Avalanche Skills Training (2 AST2) advanced recreational course. If you are a backcountry skier or split boarder, you can join us for this comprehensive 4-day program which includes one day of AST 1 review & advanced theory and three days of backcountry touring and decision making in avalanche terrain. We also offer this program in Roger’s Pass for those who are advanced backcountry skiers or split boarders.
Further reading and theory: We offer the AST 2 text for sale on our AST 1 programs. If you would like to have a reference manual that goes into more depth of the technical theory behind why avalanches occur, you can purchase the “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” book by Bruce Tremper for an additional $25. Please let us know when you register if you would like this option as supplies are limited and ordered in advance. This book will prepare participants for the AST 2 course.