Puppy Mill Avalanche Courses

The definition of a puppy mill is: A puppy mill, sometimes known as a puppy farm,[1] is a commercial dog breeding facility that is operated with an emphasis upon profits above animal welfare and is often in substandard conditions regarding the well-being of dogs in their care.

Nobody likes puppy mills, so why would you sign up for the puppy mill equivalent in an avalanche course?  At Kling Mountain Guides, we don’t like puppy mills either.  There are many companies out there that will pump you through an avalanche course and hand you your certificate faster than you can write a check.  We have found that there are several “myths” as we like to call them that make an AIARE Course Provider run the dreaded Puppy Mill Avalanche Courses.

General Size of the Course and the Instructor to Student Ratio Myth:

To start with our course sizes are limited.  To conduct an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) avalanche course, Course Providers (that’s the company running the course so KMG in this case) is limited on the instructor to student ratios they can run.  A Level 1 course is recommend to have no more than 6 students per 1 instructor.  We are allowed to go up to seven students per one instructor if needed.  This means that a Course Provider could run an AIARE avalanche course with six students and a single instructor, or they could run a course with 21 students and three instructors.  Some programs might even offer a course with 28 students and four instructors for a total of 32 people!  The second two options obviously brings in substantially more money.  Now picture the difference of sitting in a classroom, or going on a ski tour for a minute with a group of seven total skier versus a group of 32 total skiers!  Even if the instructors are wonderful, the students in the large group of 32 are not going to take away nearly the knowledge that the group of seven will take away.  We call that the Instructor to Student Ratio Myth. This term comes from when you call an AIARE Course Provider or look on their website they will say we always stay under a 6:1 or 7:1 ratio.  They won’t tell you that you are going to get put into a classroom or tour group with 20+ other people.  When is the last time that you ever went into the backcountry with that many people!?!  Yeah, US NEITHER!  So ask your provider how many students will be in your course.

The Qualified Instructor Myth:

AIARE Requires that potential instructors meet certain qualifications, experience, training, and prerequisites before they will be even considered for instructor status.  instruct AIARE avalanche courses.  KMG’s requirements are for instructing AIARE programs are even higher that what AIARE requires.  As the course level an instructor intends to teach goes up, so do the prerequisites. The qualified instructor myth is when instructors complete an Instructor Training Course (ITC) and immediately think they are an instructor.  This is not the case.  Just because an instructor completes an ITC, it does not make them an AIARE Qualified Instructor.  There are reputable programs that offer avalanche courses and sneak by with out using AIARE qualified instructors.  There are also many instructors out there that have taken an ITC and mislead the public with their instructor status by telling people they are AIARE Certified instructors, but are not.  First off, there is no such things as an AIARE Certified Instructor only qualified.  Second, just because one completes an ITC, it does not make them an AIARE Qualified Instructor.   Make sure that the avalanche education program you are taking a course from is using fully qualified AIARE instructors and course leaders.  If you question your instructor’s status you can check it our here on the AIARE website.

On Staff/ In House Instructors Myth:

Many Avalanche education programs have big fancy websites, and brag about their trained and certified staff.  With a little investigation few of the guides and instructors listed on their website actually work there.  They might guide a handful of programs a year.  Sometimes instructing just a single program can land an instructor on the website.  Course Providers will often actually have to bring in or farm staff from all over because in reality they don’t have qualified instructors in house.  This more common than one might think.  The common scenario is when a company decides that they would like to offer AIARE avalanche programs.  They then purchase the AIARE curriculum and pay the necessary provider fees.  However, they do all this before they have an AIARE instructors on staff.  The company then scrambles to find qualified instructors at the last minute, often sending out emails to list serves hunting for instructors.

When you sign up for an avalanche course, we recommend asking the course provider who is actually going to be instructing the course.

The Over Qualified Instructor Myth:

Many AIARE course providers out there, in similar fashion to the previous myth, “fluff” their websites with “super” instructors.  These instructors have PhDs, advanced degrees, and often years of experience playing and digging in the snow.  That all being said, one can be the smartest avalanche scientist in the world, but that does not make them a good educator or instructor.  When you call and talk to the course provider of choice, find out the instructional and guiding experience that your instructor actually has.  At KMG all of our instructors works as guides, instructors, and educators year round.  This is all they do.  Instructing avalanche programs is not their side job, or second job, or hobby.  This is what they do.  Come learn from the best, not the rest.

Unquantifiable Term myth:

There are many course providers out there that use words such as premier provider or nation’s most respected to describe their courses.  In KMG’s eyes these terms are unquantifiable terms.  It is similar to saying the “best car on the road.”  There is no way to actually quantify what premier or most respected is.  At KMG we use quantifiable terms to describe our courses.  Some quantifiable terms for our AIARE Programs are:

  • KMG is the only course provider that the Fort Lewis College Outdoor Pursuits uses for their avalanche education programing.
  • KMG is the only course provider that the San Juan College Outdoor Leadership Education and Recreation (OLER) uses for their avalanche education programing.
  • KMG has more college faculty on staff/in house than any other course provider in Southwestern Colorado.
  • KMG works with more college programs than any other course provider in Colorado.
  • Over 12 other avalanche course providers in CO have chosen to bring KMG to their location to help facilitate their courses.  This is more than virtually any other AIARE course provider in Colorado.

In the end, it all comes down to communication.  We always recommend speaking with your course provider, no matter what the program is.  Ask questions.  Shop around.  As many have heard us say “you never get done at the end of the day and say, gosh we just had too good of communication today.” If you have questions about a certain provider or type of program, get in touch.  We enjoy chatting.

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