San Juan Mountains Avalanche Skills Training Course: Level 1

Our Level 1 Avalanche Course is designed to teach the fundamentals of making sound decisions while traveling in avalanche terrain. This course is ideal for participants who have previous knowledge of their ski touring gear, uphill travel, and are highly skilled downhill skiers and riders. This course includes three days of in-depth, hands-on instruction in the backcountry, in addition to a mix of online and in-person classroom learning with an AMGA trained or certified avalanche instructor. It is a nationally recognized Level 1 course, and serves as a great foundation to build upon as you enter the world of backcountry recreation.

In this course students will travel into the backcountry ski terrain of the San Juan Mountains in small groups with their instructor, where they will engage in an intensive training that covers using the Avalanche Triangle basics of companion avalanche rescue, interpretation of avalanche bulletins, and employing a backcountry field notebook.

To make a reservation, please click below.

Open Level 1 Avalanche Course - Register

Level 1 Avalanche Course Info

  • Winter backcountry travel skills on skis or a splitboard are a prerequisite to taking this course, as we will cover terrain that moves up and downhill in variable conditions not found on a ski resort. (If you are looking to learn basic backcountry travel skills, check out our Intro to Backcountry Skiing trip).
  • If you are snowshoeing, you must book a private trip as an individual or with a self-selected group.
  • We have rental gear available (see below); however, we strongly suggest bringing and practicing with your own backcountry kit.
    • Beacon, shovel and probe (and ski backpack upon request) – $50 for the course.
    • Ski touring kit (includes skis, boots, skins and poles) – $200 for the course.
  • Pre-course online materials and a mandatory assessment will be provided to students 10 days before the course begins. 
  • After the course has concluded, each student will receive a one-year Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card and membership to Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).

We know courses can be cost prohibitive, especially for those living in mountain towns with a high cost of living. For assistance, check out the PI Avalanche Fund, which offers scholarships to individuals looking to further their avalanche education, and memorializes our good friend and former guide, Peter Inglis. Applications are now open for the 2023-24 season! Apply HERE.

If you have questions or are unsure of where to start in your backcountry progression, please contact the Mountain Trip office at [email protected] or (970) 369-1153.

Level 1 Avalanche Course

Pre-Course: Self-paced online study module (optional)

Day 1

8:30 a.m. Meet at Classroom Location

8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Avalanche Hazard Concepts

  • Introductions
  • Avalanche Triangle: The framework for understanding avalanche hazard
    • Terrain
    • Weather
    • Snowpack
    • Human factors

1-4 p.m. Avalanche Rescue Skills Introduction

  • Pack contents: What to bring into the backcountry
  • Transceiver search techniques
  • Effective probing and pinpoint search skills
  • Individual and group strategic shoveling
  • Full scenario practice

4 p.m. Debrief

Day 2

8:30 a.m. Meet at Classroom Location

9-11 a.m. Backcountry Tour Planning Session

  • Avalanche forecast
  • Weather resources
  • Online mapping tools
  • Field book use

11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Backcountry Field Session

  • Field weather observations
  • Snowpack observations
  • Terrain observations

4 p.m. Debrief

Day 3

8:30 a.m. Meet at Field Location

9 a.m.-4 p.m. Full-Day Backcountry Tour

  • Travel management
  • Field observations
  • Group decision-making

4 p.m. Course Close and Debrief

Please note: Course itineraries are approximate and subject to change due to weather conditions, group abilities, and other elements outside of our control.

While the Level 1 Avalanche Course is the entry-point into avalanche education in the United States, it’s important that students come into the course with the requisite experience and skill set to get the most out of their time in the field. 

At a minimum, students should be familiar with, and competent in, the following skills: 

  • How to put climbing skins on your skis/splitboard. 
  • How to transition your touring bindings and click in for uphill travel. 
  • How to move efficiently uphill and navigate a skin track.
  • How to transition from uphill to downhill mode with their skis/splitboard. 
  • How to ski or ride in the variable snow conditions often encountered in the backcountry. 

These skills are required for participants because they are fundamental to traveling efficiently and safely through the mountains. Participants should have these skills dialed before they take the next step of considering avalanche education. We want you to be focused primarily on learning as much as you can from your Level 1 Avalanche Course, and having these foundational skills will help.

If you are unfamiliar with any of these aspects of backcountry skiing or riding, that’s OK! We offer a full-day Intro to Backcountry Skiing trip that is focused on equipping you with the knowledge and skills to begin earning your turns. If you would like to take a Level 1 Avalanche Course with us, but don’t yet have the required foundational skills, we recommend that you sign up for an Intro to Backcountry Skiing trip.

Inclusions and Exclusions for Level 1 Avalanche Course

Included in the Trip Fee:

• Guidance of our highly experienced Mountain Trip guides.

• All necessary protective equipment where it is required.

• Assistance arranging post-trip activities in the area.

Not Included in the Trip Fee:

• Travel to and from southwest Colorado.

• Personal clothing and equipment per our equipment list. (Please, just ask us if you need anything!)

• Accommodations in Colorado.

• Travel and/or rescue insurance. (The CORSAR card is an inexpensive way to reimburse local rescue groups for costs incurred during a rescue in Colorado.)

• Costs incurred due to evacuation or unplanned departure from the area due to illness or other problems.

• Costs incurred as a result of delays beyond the control of Mountain Trip.

• Costs as a result of force majeure.

Refunds and Cancellations

Mountain Trip recognizes how difficult and disappointing it can be for guests who must cancel trips. Guests must also recognize that, due to the nature of planning trips and contracting guides for specific dates, Mountain Trip also accrues significant expenses in organizing our excursions. We must therefore adhere to a strict refund policy for all guests.

We require 100% payment at the time of booking and at least 72 hours’ notice for cancellations and rescheduling of activities. If you would like to purchase travel insurance to protect a trip in case of last-minute cancellations, you can do so via Travel Guard HERE.

We are happy to work with you to reschedule to a new date, or if you need to cancel entirely, we will provide a full refund with a minimum of 72 hours’ notice. If you cancel inside of 72 hours ahead of a trip departure, or do not show up, you will not be refunded and will have to reschedule by paying full price.

Avalanche Courses (Rescue, Level 1 and Level 2) cannot be cancelled or rescheduled once the pre-course online materials have been received by the student 10 days prior to the in-person field session. Additionally, for the Level 2 Avalanche Course at OPUS Hut, we are required to adhere to the OPUS Hut Cancellation Policy. Please view that HERE.

All requests for refunds must be made in writing and received in our Colorado office. No refunds will be provided for cancellations occurring within the last three days prior to the scheduled date of a trip.

Mountain Trip reserves the right to cancel a trip prior to the departure date for any reason. In such an event, all monies collected by Mountain Trip from trip participants shall be promptly refunded. This is the extent of our financial liability.

Weather Cancellations

We, Mountain Trip and our guides, reserve the right to make all weather-related decisions in regards to the cancellation of trips.

The following is a list of guide-recommended gear for Avalanche Courses with Mountain Trip. In general, you’ll want a selection of warm layers that work together. We have used and have faith in all of our recommendations, but they may not necessarily fit or work for you. Whatever gear you choose, please make sure it fits well so you fully enjoy your experience in the mountains.

In addition to what we provide and have available to rent, there is also a good selection of gear available in Telluride and Ouray. If you have any specific questions about what you might need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Mountain Trip office.

Rental alpine touring skis, boots, skins and poles are available for $200/course, and Avy kit for $50/course.

Print Equipment


GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Ski SocksYou will want ski socks that fit your foot well and are warm. For multi-day trips or ski expeditions, we recommend multiple pairs of socks so you can dry a pair overnight.

Torso Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Base Layer Top(1 or 2 sets) of Wool or Capilene light weight base layers. Long sleeve or short sleeve base layers work well.
Light Fleece HoodyLight/mid weight fleece (or wool) top with a hood. You will wear this over your light weight base layer.
Soft Shell Wind JacketMany high alpine peaks are cold and dry. We are huge fans of very lightweight softshell wind jackets for high, dry, cold peaks. Weighing just a few ounces, these can be carried in your pocket or in the lid of your pack for rapid deployment. This layer is used in addition to your more waterproof hard shell jacket.
Vest (optional)A lightweight down or synthetic filled vest can be a nice addition and add some warmth with little weight. **This is an optional layer**
Ski ShellWe recommend a gore-tex ski shell that is water resistant but light weight at the same time.
Puffy Jacket SkiingA warm puffy jacket to throw on at the top of the skin track, during breaks, in the early am or on cold days.

Leg Layers

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Base Layer Bottoms(1 or 2 sets) of Wool or Capilene light weight base layers.
Ski PantA goretex or softshell ski pant with ventilation is recommended.

Head and Hands

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Buff Neck GaiterBuff is a brand of light weight neck gaiters that have grown to become a staple of every guide's kit. These are amazingly versatile, and can be worn as a hat, a neck gaiter or pulled over your face for protection from the wind or sun. They come in many thicknesses nowadays, but we prefer the original weight for its versatility.
Sun HatBaseball type or wide brimmed sun hats are required for protection against the intense sunshine found on many peaks. You can combine a baseball hat with a BUFF for good sun protection or go for a wide brimmed version to protect your face, ears and neck.
Hand WarmersBring 4 -6+ sets of these disposable insurance policies, depending on where you are climbing. Make certain that your hand warmers are relatively new, as they do go bad over time.
SunglassesSunglasses are essential in the mountains. Choose a pair that are comfortable and provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.
Midweight Ski GlovesLight to mid-weight glove for warmer ski touring
Warm Ski Glove or MittensA warm pair of ski gloves or mittens.
Ski GogglesSki Goggles

Ski Gear

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Backcountry Ski PolesAdjustable ski poles are fantastic as they allow you to change length for skinning vs. skiing. Any poles with powder baskets will work.
**These are included with our touring rental gear package
Touring BootsIf you have your own boots some helpful features include; walk mode and pin binding compatibility. Whatever boot you decide to use, make sure it is compatible with your touring bindings.
**Mountain Trip has a fleet of La Sportiva touring boots available to rent
Climbing SkinsClimbing skins pre-cut for your touring skis.
**Skins are included with the touring gear rental package
Backcountry SkisA lightweight ski setup with touring specific bindings is a great way to maximize the fun in the backcountry.
**Mountain Trip has a fleet of Black Diamond touring skis with pin bindings for you to rent for Colorado backcountry ski trips.
Ski HelmetWe recommend skiing with a ski helmet. Any downhill ski helmet will work.

Avalanche Safety Equipment

GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Avalanche Transceiver/BeaconWhen traveling in avalanche terrain, whether it is backcountry skiing in the Alaska Range, or Colorado, we will wear avalanche transceivers (beacons). We will have an opportunity to practice at the start of the trip. Beacons are included for Colorado backcountry ski trips and available for rent on other climbs and expeditions.
Avalanche ProbeAn avalanche probe specifically for backcountry skiing. These are provided for all ski programs, but you are welcome to bring your own.
Avalanche ShovelYou want a shovel that has a removable handle so that you can stow it in your backpack while touring. Metal bladed shovels only.
Backcountry Ski BackpackA backpack specific for backcountry skiing is recommended, these packs will have a separate pocket specifically for avalanche rescue gear. We also recommend skiing with an avalanche airbag, Mountain Trip has a fleet of Black Diamond airbag backpacks for rent on Colorado backcountry ski trips.


GearDescriptionGuide's Pick
Two (2) One-Liter Water BottlesYou will need two, 1-liter plastic water bottles. Please bring wide-mouth bottles, such as those from Nalgene, as these are much easier to fill than bottles with small openings.
Lip BalmBring a tube of quality lip balm with sun protection (SPF).
SunscreenThe sun can be intense in Colorado, so please apply high SPF sunscreen prior to your trip and bring a small tube along to reapply during the day.
Snacks and Lunch FoodPack enough food for snacking while on the skin track, in-between rock pitches or on the trail in the summer. We recommend a combination of energy bars, dried fruit and nuts and/or a sandwich. Bring something that you like to eat!
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