Most avalanche education providers in the United States focus on individual recreationists, how they can enjoy their sport safely, and how companions can provide an immediate rescue response if someone is caught. The NSP also provides this kind of training, but the heart of its avalanche education program is to train professional rescuers (paid and volunteer) to participate in organized avalanche rescue operations.
Rescuers also must make safety decisions, both individually and collectively, during rescue operations, but they face different pressures, constraints, options, and skill requirements than recreationists. Team structure and decision making are more formalized. The NSP program is unique in this respect, born from avalanche rescue training for U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service snow rangers and ski patrollers in the 1950s and under continuous development ever since.
NSP Avalanche Program
Documentation indicates that about half of avalanche fatalities involve people who have not had any avalanche safety education at all. In addition, recreationists put themselves at risk despite experience, obvious danger indicators, advisories, and even their own trip plans, in which they had taken dangers into account. Education is the key to reducing avalanche fatalities.
The American Avalanche Association has developed recommended standards for avalanche education for recreationists in the United States. The NSP Avalanche program uses these standards as a baseline for curriculum content.
Avalanche Awareness and Level 1 Avalanche courses: “Level 1” is an American Avalanche Association designation for “fundamentals” courses, which constitute the minimum education recommended for recreationists who may be exposed to avalanche terrain.
Introduction to Avalanche Safety: Rescue course for patrollers who have a general interest in the subject but, due to their location, are unlikely to encounter actual avalanche terrain.
Level 1 Avalanche for Rescue Personnel: Module supplements regular Level 1 avalanche training with unique safety and rescue education for anyone involved in organized rescue operations.
Level 2 (advanced) Avalanche: Course is especially designed to develop avalanche rescue leadership skills.
Safety topics for rescue personnel deal with:
- External pressure to respond immediately without taking time to properly assess the situation
- Subjecting rescuers to unfamiliar terrain
- Dealing with the fact that, because an avalanche incident occurred, avalanche danger must be assumed to be at least “Considerable,” if not higher
- No alternative destination and few alternative routes
- Personnel burdened with rescue equipment
- Standardized rescue management under the Incident Command System
- Mechanized transportation, including helicopter safety
As with all NSP education programs, NSP avalanche curricula undergo continuous evaluation and updates to reflect current and the most reliable research and practices. Certified instructors undergo rigorous development, performance evaluation, and continuing education. These instructors develop lessons that are consistent with NSP Avalanche Program standards, yet are customized for their audiences and geography. These features make the NSP program’s quality and scope second to none.