Ken Koehlert, Region AVA Staff Supervisor

NSP Avalanche Education Saves Lives

Eric Zaharee with a Forest Service Snow Ranger assess snowpack stability under the Sluice Ice in Tuckerman’s Ravine, NH

More and more skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and snowmobilers are accessing the backcountry every winter in search of untracked powder and adventure. Unfortunately for these winter enthusiasts, the “avalanche dragon” also lurks there. Backcountry terrain is neither controlled nor patrolled, and under the right (or wrong!) conditions, avalanches can turn the adventure into tragedy.

While large avalanches can easily destroy anything in their path, smaller avalanches are more often responsible for injuries or death to people. The overall survival rate for someone caught in an avalanche is one in three. These sobering statistics indicate that it is critical to be well-versed in both avalanche avoidance and avalanche rescue techniques.

NSP has been educating ski patrollers and other search and rescue personnel since 1957, making it the oldest and most experienced provider of avalanche education for professionals in the U.S. Recently, NSP has expanded its program, offering avalanche education for general recreationists as well.

All NSP avalanche courses meet or exceed curriculum recommendations established for each course by the American Avalanche Association. Course content is frequently updated to incorporate the latest science-based knowledge, skills, and techniques. All avalanche education courses are taught by NSP-certified avalanche instructors who have undergone rigorous training and evaluation of technical knowledge and teaching skills. For more information on a course, whether a simple awareness presentation or a Level 1 avalanche program with extensive field training follow the links below to discover the details and feel free to contact the NH Region Avalanche Advisor:

Email the Avalanche Advisor with comments and questions.

Avalanche Courses

New Hampshire is one of the only eastern states with a popular ski area that experiences persistent avalanche activity.  That ski area is Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine.  The US Forest Service maintains Avalanche Snow Rangers and an NSP volunteer Ski Patrol during their ski season.  The Rangers operate a mountain wide avalanche forecasting center known as the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.

The Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol hosts a LEVEL ONE AVALANCHE course every March with field exercises held in the bowl at Tuckerman Ravine.  The course fills up quickly and typically develops a waiting list of participants.  It is open to both NSP Members and non-members alike.  Ski Patrollers and SAR personnel travel from around the entire division to attend in the majestic setting of Mount Washington.

In New Hampshire, the course is taught over a three day period to include Module ONE, TWO and THREE of the Level One Avalanche certification.  This includes snow science with an extensive practical field exercise, and Organized Avalanche Rescue certification which requires a second extensive field exercise.  Check the AVA Events page for additional course descriptions.  Below is a descriptions of the Avalanche Modules.  Other Eastern Division hosted Avalanche Courses can be found on the AVA Events page.

Level 1 Avalanche Module 1 -- Avalanche Foundations

Level 1 Avalanche Module 1 (L1AM1) provides the classroom component of a Level 1 Avalanche. It introduces fundamental concepts and principles of avalanche hazard, safety, and rescue, but it does not include skill development in the field.

By itself, the module qualifies as an introductory-level course that satisfies NSP senior elective requirements in those divisions where avalanche hazard is negligible and providing Module 2 is impractical if not impossible due to lack of representative terrain and snowpack. It does not meet full Level 1 course standards and does not qualify as a prerequisite for enrollment in a Level 2 Avalanche course.

Time commitment: minimum of 8 hours of classroom instruction.

Level 1 Avalanche Module 2 -- Avalanche Safety and Rescue Skills

Level 1 Avalanche Module 2 (L1AM2) provides the field component of a Level 1 avalanche course. This module when combined with Level 1 Avalanche Module 1, completes a full Level 1 course that meets guidelines established by the American Avalanche Association (AAA). It covers basic avalanche problem recognition, including weather snowpack and terrain observation and evaluation; route selection, decision making, survival, self-rescue and small group rescue methods.

Prerequisites: Level 1 Avalanche Module 1 within the previous three years (a pretest may be required); ability to travel in steep, ungroomed, snow-covered terrain, under adverse weather conditions.

Time commitment: minimum of 16 hours of field instruction and practice.

Level 1 Avalanche Module 3 -- Organized Avalanche Rescue

Level 1 Avalanche Module 3 (L1AM3) is a specially designed curriculum to help prepare ski patrollers and other SAR personnel for organized avalanche rescue responsibilities. It introduces organized rescue principles and skills, management structure, special decision-making problems and strategies. It is considered to be the minimum level of rescue education for these personnel.

This module is strongly recommended for all patrollers who may patrol or recreate at areas that have known avalanche hazard. Some divisions require this module as a requirement for senior classification. Some area patrols require this level of avalanche education as a condition of membership.

Prerequisite: NSP Level 1 Avalanche Modules 1 and 2, or an equivalent full Level 1 avalanche course or refresher within the previous three years; FEMA IS-700(b) course certification.

Time commitment: minimum of 8 hours of instruction, at least 60% in the field.

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