Backcountry Guide Expands Critical Skills with Avalanche Science Certification
Chris Peterson was looking to expand his education in snow science and avalanche forecasting when he discovered the Avalanche Science program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. Having recently earned an Adventure Guide diploma in British Columbia, he knew CMC would give him a competitive edge in the guiding industry while teaching the skills, knowledge and providing the mentorship he was seeking.
Now, almost halfway through the two-year program, Chris has already gained critical skills and hands-on experience while building his professional network.
“I have gained a community of classmates and instructors who all share a similar interest in snow and avalanches,” says Chris, “Not only are we a community within the college but we’re a community within the snow and avalanche industry.”
Taught by Avalanche Professionals
For Chris, it’s the quality of instructors and their professional experience, that puts CMC’s Avalanche Science program ahead of the rest. The curriculum is designed by avalanche professionals from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), CMC and USFS. Notable instructors include Dr. Ethan Greene, the Director of the CAIC, Dr. Kelly Elder, USFS Research Hydrologist, and Roger Coit, EMS and Outdoor Studies faculty at CMC.
“The entire faculty currently works in the snow and avalanche industry in various job types,” says Chris, “This gives students an insight into different positions and opportunities to learn from them in their workplace.”
Faculty connections have created many hands-on learning opportunities outside the classroom for Chris and his peers. He’s collected snow-pit data for instructor Dr. Kelly Elder at the Fraser Experimental Forest and shadowed instructor Becs Hodgetts who is the CAIC highway forecaster for the Monarch Pass corridor.
Flexible Scheduling for Working Professionals
The Avalanche Science program was designed with working professionals in mind. The hybrid curriculum is a mix of online coursework and three on-site sessions each year. Students take classes in meteorology, snow and avalanches, weather observations, forecasting and safety operations over the course of two years. There is also a required field internship and a portfolio seminar.
“I really enjoyed the forecasting class with Dr. Ethan Greene,” says Chris, “We put together weekly weather and avalanche forecasts for a wide variety of applications. The only difference between our class and what the CAIC forecasters do was not having to put the forecast together at 4am every day.”
A low student/ instructor ratio encourages enhanced learning opportunities while mitigating risk during field work in avalanche terrain. Enrollment is capped at 12 students per year, with program entry requirements geared towards current and aspiring avalanche professionals. Current students include a roster of ski patrollers, backcountry guides, rescue groups, and other outdoor professionals.