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Backcountry Leaders Initiative

Considering the lack of BIPOC AIARE instructors & ski/snowboard guides, this is a free mentorship program.

Climbers of Color’s Backcountry Leaders Initiative provides extended mentorship, education, and coaching for those seeking to further their backcountry skills to become certified AIARE instructors &/or pursue backcountry ski/snowboard guiding. The cohort will be limited to 4 intermediate backcountry* snowboarders and skiers. The program will run from January 2024 - April/ May 2024. Prior goals for this group may include: 

  • Improved forecast interpretation and application skills

  • Improved confidence traveling in advanced and complex terrain

  • Improved confidence traveling to & leading groups in new snowpacks

  • Volcano/big mountain touring efficiencies

  • Pro-1 application

  • AIARE Instructor Trainer Course application

  • Introduction to technical skills for ski-mountaineering/ split-mountaineering



Climbers of Color recognizes a conglomerate of factors that create an intermediate ability level. Rigid prerequisites are outlined below; any further questions or concerns may be directed to



  • AIARE I certified (may be taken this season, see AIARE I page for application) 

  • 2 or more seasons of backcountry travel with at least 5 days/ season

  • Familiarity with avalanche forecasting websites

  • Backcountry travel gear & familiarity with applications


Course FAQs:


  • I have all the prerequisites except for an AIARE I, can I still apply?

    • If you can receive AIARE I certification this season, yes! CoC will offer AIARE I programs this winter, including many scholarship opportunities. 


  • What if I do not want to become an AIARE instructor &/or ski/snowboard guide?

    • I (Cal’ S.) encourage you to re-think this! There are very few BIPOC AIARE educators and backcountry guides. Let’s work to change this together!





January 13th, Snoqualmie Pass

Initial meetup! Community norms, pit-digging, and other various tests we should all be familiar with to apply for the whole season. 

  • Pit + tests (and why they’re a time sink)

  • Hand shear

  • Shovel Tilt Test

  • Pole-probing

  • Foot & boot penetration; why are they valuable? 

  • Various terrain indicators of Wx & AVI

  • "Test/Data"  Economy


February 19th, Snoqualmie Pass

Intro to couloir skiing/ ATES Level 3 Terrain

  • What are some tactics or strategies to manage this terrain? 

  • What group size is optimal? 

  • ‘Threading the Needle’: How, where, and why?

  • Discussion of emergency response plans


March 1 - 3, Location TBD (Snoqualmie Pass, Mt. Baker Ski Area, etc.)

Overnight trip as introductory to winter camping, on-site riding, and forecasting. Location TBD

  • Application of previous skill sets employed here

    • Imagine you had no internet; how do we create a plan & mindset to be in the backcountry? How much/ what kind of data do we need?

  • Intro to winter/ snow camping

  • Intro to ski-mountaineering techniques

    • When does the mountaineering become skiing? When does the skiing become mountaineering? 

      • The answer is a 10-letter word that we do often. 


April 6 - 7, Location TBD (Snoqualmie Pass, Mt. Baker Ski Area, etc.)

Cohort trip to the desired venue. Apply skillsets from previous trips to a different/ previously unvisited zone. 

  • Review of ski-mo techniques

  • Intro to Crevasse Rescue for ski-mo

May 10 - 13, Location Kulshan/ Pahto/ Takhoma

 Volcano expedition. Pahto, Kulshan, Takhoma, etc. Where do we want to spend 4-nights?!

  • Culminating project here team. Focus on the steps achieved and taken to get here, do not get lost in the sauce of the size of the volcano; you stand atop your mountain of experience, erupting with wisdom and winds of advice from your peers.

Itinerary FAQs

  • What if I cannot make it to 'x' date? 

    • There may be weekday options to schedule with Cal' if he is available. Peers who attended the missed date and feel comfortable sharing are encouraged to do so. Ultimately, this program will be what you make of it, so consider the additive nature of the curriculum. Practice makes perfect with these skills. ​Bottom line, I want you to come as much as possible and put in as much effort as you can. 

  • What is ski-mo/ what gear do I even need for that? 

    • Let's hold off on this until in-person. Some gear may be rented, others it is best to own (ski-crampons, complimentary ski-mo pack, etc.)​

  • Ski-guiding/ Split-board guiding, how do we achieve it? ​

    • Lots of money, time, certifications, and lots of question-asking, with some mountaineering skills in good dosage. ​

  • Why do we need to be climbers to be a backcountry guide? 

    • What is the primary difference between these guiding styles? ​

    • What skills are transferable and what ones are not? 

Questions? Email

This is not an AIARE Level 1/Companion Rescue course. The focus of this mentorship program is to pool the cohort, mentors included knowledge and education. Participants will not be guided, nor should they expect to be guided, as this is a free offering from CoC.

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