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American Avalanche Association Pro Training Program Update: Progress Report and a Call for Engagement

By Michael Ferrari, AAA Treasurer, APP Board Member

This fall will be three years since the American Avalanche Association (AAA) hosted an informal avalanche education summit in Alta, UT on Halloween 2013 (see The Avalanche Review 32.2, December 2013, p. 6). This meeting brought together representatives from across the avalanche industry to discuss the state of avalanche education opportunities for both professionals and recreationists in the United States. As a direct response to this initial meeting, the AAA has invested countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars into developing the AAA Pro Training Program. The collaborative effort to develop and refine the Pro Training Program has engaged avalanche course providers, their instructors, and myriad other avalanche professionals from across the industry and around the country. In facilitating the development of this program, the AAA has taken a dramatic step forward in being an actively unifying force within the avalanche industry. Throughout this process the AAA has been committed to creating a program that provides more consistent professional training opportunities for avalanche workers in the U.S., striving to keep the big picture of what is best for the ENTIRE avalanche industry at the forefront. Today, we stand on the brink of launching this new program.

We firmly believe that more consistent professional avalanche training opportunities will benefit avalanche workers, their employers, and the entire avalanche industry in the United States. When avalanche workers have a consistent core set of skills entering a job, transitioning to a new employer, or moving into a leadership role within their program, everyone benefits from the consistency and demonstrated proficiency with those baseline skills. The AAA Pro Training Program is an industry-designed program that will be an important piece in the training puzzle to help our industry continue to improve on our collective professionalism. The AAA’s program complements in-house training opportunities, specific on-the-job experience, ongoing professional mentorship, and other sources of continuing professional development. It is important to note that the Pro Training Program does not seek to replace these other integral pieces of the professional avalanche training puzzle but to work in a collaborative, complementary manner to increase the overall effectiveness of all training for avalanche professionals.

The coming winter will be a season of preparation and transition. The new pro courses will be offered for the first time in the 2017/18 season. We have finalized nearly all the details of the Pro Training Program - course skills and proficiencies, overall program structure and oversight, and a clear matrix for recognizing prior learning and experience. These details were released to the AAA membership at the beginning of August. Ultimately, we wanted our members, avalanche professionals, to have sufficient time to digest the final details of this new program and start to figure out how their current and/or future training may fit into the new paradigm. If you are a current AAA member, you can access the detailed Pro Training documents online by logging into your profile in the AAA database (aaa19.wildapricot.org). Once logged in, go to the “MEMBERS” tab in the menu across the top of the page and select “AAA PRO TRAINING PROGRAM”.

This winter the AAA will be hosting three Pro Trainer Workshops at three different locations around the country. These workshops are “train the trainer” opportunities for future Pro Course instructors. The goals of these 3-day workshops are to familiarize future Pro Course instructors with the program and course structure, review the specific skills, proficiencies, and marking rubrics for each course, and demonstrate and practice consistent student evaluation processes. One of the keys to success of the AAA Pro Training Program is a robust system for supporting and monitoring the consistency and quality of pro courses. The Pro Trainer Workshops are a proactive piece of this model to encourage consistent course content and student assessment.

The Pro Trainer Workshop schedule for the 2016/17 season is as follows:

December 6-8, 2016 - Workshop hosted at A-Basin Ski Area in Colorado

December 11-13, 2016 - Workshop hosted at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming

March 27-29, 2017 - Workshop hosted at Alpental Ski Area in Washington

These workshops are currently fully enrolled for this season, though they will not be the one-and-only chance to be involved in teaching Pro Training Courses in the future. Individuals who work for an AAA-approved Pro Course Provider will have opportunities for in-house training prior to next season, and the AAA will continue to offer Pro Trainer Workshops on an annual basis to meet the needs of the program and course providers.

Ski areas, ski patrollers and APP members who handle avalanche hazard mitigation at their resorts are, obviously, vitally important members of the community of avalanche professionals in the United States. The AAA has strived to include ski area/patrol perspective as we’ve lead the process of designing and implementing the new Pro Training Program. The National Avalanche School has participated in numerous meetings, workshops, and working groups and has been a key collaborator as we’ve developed the details of the program and courses. We’ve solicited ongoing feedback and input on program details from ski areas through our Industry Advisory Group with Julie Rust of Vail Resorts as our ski area representative within that group.

National Avalanche School will continue to be a source of outside training for ski patrollers that approaches avalanches from more of a mitigator’s perspective. NAS will be going through the AAA approval process to officially offer a “Pro 1 - NAS” course starting next season. This course will meet all requirements of the new AAA Professional Avalanche Training 1 course and still cater to perspectives and topics important to ski patrollers and ski areas. In the coming years it may be possible for the APP to also offer Pro 1 courses if there are qualified members that are willing to take the necessary steps to be instructors and have the requisite experience.

Even as the new AAA Pro Training Program holds huge potential to benefit the industry with improved quality, consistency, and access to professional level avalanche training, we are also committed to recognizing the value of the experience and training that we all have gained through various avenues prior to this new system. The AAA has designed a Prior Learning Assessment matrix and process that provides numerous avenues for recognition of prior training and experience with equivalency in the new Pro Training Program. This is the path APP certified patroller’s would want to use to convert their existing avalanche education into the new system. Our goal with the Pro Training Program is to be as inclusive as possible for those who wish to gain recognized equivalency. We have designed a matrix that identifies some standards paths of recognized equivalency between our current system and the new system. Additionally, the AAA will have a process in place for anyone who does not fit into the standard matrix to seek recognized equivalency through demonstrating how his/her own training and experience meet or exceed the level of training of the course for which he/she is seeking recognition.

Moving forward, we will continue to provide regular updates and feature articles about the AAA Pro Training Program in The Avalanche Review, published four times per winter season - October, December, February, and April, and through regular email communications with our members. Thus, being (or becoming) a member of the AAA will ensure that you have access to the most up-to-date and pertinent information about the new Pro Training Program (http://www.americanavalancheassociation.org/aaamembership/). Recognizing that not everyone is a member of the AAA currently, we are also trying to be proactive in reaching an audience beyond current AAA members with these new program details. You can help us with this task by understanding the new program, proactively sharing details with colleagues and friends, being a resource for questions within your organization or region, and then referring colleagues or friends directly to the AAA when they have questions that you can’t answer. We are a stronger industry when we work together, connect with others, share ideas, and are open to learning from new and different sources. While the AAA strives to help facilitate these connections and sharing through all our programs, we need your help and engagement to do it more effectively.

If you have further questions for us right now or in the future regarding the AAA Pro Training Program, be in touch with us at aaa.protrainingcoordinator@gmail.com (Matt Schonwald, AAA Pro Training Coordinator) or aaa.jaimem@gmail.com (Jaime Musnicki, AAA Executive Director) or contact me at ferrariski@live.com.

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