By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

Whether you’re skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or fat biking, anyone who spends time in the mountains of the West will benefit from proper avalanche education. We highly encourage you to take an avalanche course in southwest Montana this winter—it can save your life.

When you head into a backcountry environment covered in wild snow, you’re on your own. You are responsible for every decision you make including where you go and what you do.

It’s your responsibility to read the daily avalanche advisory from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center; invest in the proper backcountry gear (beacon, shovel, probe) and learn how to use it; read avalanche books that teach you about snow science; and then do the most important thing: Take an avalanche course.

In an avalanche course you’ll participate in both classroom and field sessions where you’ll learn about safe travel, group dynamics, avalanche rescues, beacon searches, snow science, stability tests, mountain hazards, and more from seasoned avalanche professionals and educators. If you recreate in the mountains of Montana it’s time and money well spent.

Are you ready to take an avalanche course in southwest Montana this winter? The following businesses and organizations will offer avalanche education in this region during the 2016-2017 winter season (be sure to check for availability):

AAI – The American Avalanche Institute is one of the premier avalanche education organizations in the United States. They provide snow science courses and avalanche certifications across the western U.S. Below are the courses they will offer in Montana this winter.

Level 1 – Dec. 28-30, Jan. 5-8, Jan. 19-22, Feb. 9-12
Level 2 – Jan. 14-17

Beartooth Mountain Guides – Beartooth Mountain Guides is based in Red Lodge, Montana. They offer a wide variety of guided mountain experiences in the Beartooths, including avalanche courses out of Cooke City, Montana.

Level 1 – Feb. 3-5, Feb. 18-20

Beartooth Powder Guides – Beartooth Powder Guides provides hut trips, education, and guided trips in the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains around Cooke City.

Level 1 – Dec. 9-11, Dec.16-18, Jan. 6-8, Jan. 13-15, Feb. 3-5
Level 1 (Snowmobile Specific) – Jan. 27-29
Level 2 – Jan. 19-22

Bell Lake Yurt – The Bell Lake Yurt offers camps, guided and unguided trips, and avalanche education in the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Level 1 – Jan. 6-8, Jan. 13-15, Jan. 20-22
Level 2 – Feb. 2-5

BSAFE – Big Sky Avalanche Foundation for Education offers convenient avalanche education in and around Big Sky.

Level 1 – Jan. 20-22, Feb. 10-12
Level 2 – Feb. 28 – March 3

Hellroaring Powder Guides – Hellroaring Powder Guides provides guided and unguided backcountry hut skiing in the Centennial Mountains of southwest Montana.

Custom courses available – Consult website

MAG – Montana Alpine Guides is based in Bozeman, Montana. They guide rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and skiing and provide avalanche education courses in southwest Montana.

Level 1 – Feb. 3-5, March 3-5

Yellowstone Ski Tours – Yellowstone Ski Tours is based in Cooke City and offers guided skiing and avalanche education throughout Yellowstone National Park.

Level 1 – Jan. 14-16, Jan. 27-29

If the above dates don’t work for you, many of these companies also offer custom avalanche education courses as well. Reach out to these businesses to see how they can help you learn the mountain skills you need.

If you’re not interested in a full multi-day backcountry course, there are always opportunities to take avalanche awareness classes. Learn more about these courses at mtavalanche.com where the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center features a full calendar of events in southwest Montana.

If you venture into avalanche terrain, you put yourself at risk. The avalanche hazard in the mountains of southwest Montana—the Tobacco Roots, Madisons, Bridgers, Absarokas, Beartooths, and Gallatins, among other ranges—is a very real thing.

Courses are filling up quickly, so book yours soon. Have fun and travel safely in the backcountry this winter.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works, and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/avalanche-course-montana/. Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/category/blog/.