Do you know what avalanche terrain looks like?

Before you head out this winter, check out these videos.

Hoping to get out more this winter? Maybe snowshoeing or backcountry skiing? It’s such a great boost for mood and fitness, and a great way to enjoy time with friends. But if you’re heading to the mountains in the snow, there’s one absolutely crucial thing to think about first: Is where you’re going in avalanche terrain? And how do you know whether or not it is?

“If you’re skiing/snowboarding or mountain sledding or ice climbing, you’re going to need to be able to identify and recognize avalanche terrain,” says Liz Riggs Meder, Director of Recreation Programs with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. “For that you need some education: recognizing avalanche terrain, understanding the hazards described by an avalanche forecast, how to use safety equipment, winter self-care and first aid. For most of that a Level 1 avalanche course is the best place to start.”

If you’re brand new to thinking about avalanche safety, this post contains five introductory videos that will help you understand what backcountry safety entails. It’s no substitute for a Level 1 avalanche course, but will help you wrap your mind around what’s at stake and why it’s important to get an avalanche safety education and skills before you head out.

“Start at avalanche.org to find your local avalanche center and local awareness courses,” Liz says. “KYBG.ORG has a great awareness video and online course. Follow your local avalanche center on social media. Find an avalanche course (level 1,2 or rescue) near you at avtraining.org.”

If you’re snowshoeing/hiking/nordic skiing/snowmobiling, there are lots of options that are well away from avalanche terrain, Liz says, but make sure you know with certainty (like a professional or agency says so), and then be even more prepared than you would be on a summer outing, with first aid, food and layers, adding a margin of safety to accommodate the cold.

Liz advises first-time winter travelers to start small. “Find low-angle terrain to get your systems dialed,” she says. “Take a course! That can help find competent friends and partners. Make sure you go out with people you trust, communicate well with and who actually know what they’re doing. Don’t just assume because someone has done it alot that they are knowledgeable or doing it well!”

Another great way to get started is to hire a guide. “That can help set a baseline for you what knowledge and experience should look like,” Liz says. “They have LOTS of experience in the mountains in the winter. Don’t pass up on an opportunity to learn from that!”

Remember: Safe is fun.

Episode 1: Essential Rescue Equipment

Episode 2: Departure Check

Episode 3: Am I in Avalanche Terrain 

Episode 4: Where is the Unstable Terrain

Episode 5: Choose Terrain to Reduce Your Risk