Using the AAI Checklist to Plan Your Backcountry Ski Touring

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Don Carpenter, co-owner of the AAI and lead instructor, drove the creation of the Backcountry Checklist because backcountry terrain is a complex environment. It is also a high-risk environment, with high consequences if something goes wrong.

Why Use the AAI Checklist?

Experienced backcountry travelers will do most of the things on this checklist automatically, but perhaps not all. It’s easy to skip a step when planning, especially without something to guide you.

Therefore, the AAI Checklist is a tool to make better decisions, increase communication, and avoid skipping a step. The checklist is simple and small, it fits in your jacket pocket.

In addition, the AAI checklist has been tested and fine-tuned on every backcountry adventure we’ve set out on.

AAI Video: How to Use the Backcountry Checklist

The Swiss Cheese Model

The ‘Swiss cheese model’, shown by Don in the video, visually displays how there are several different layers in your backcountry tour planning.

These range from pre-trip planning to the post-trip discussion and are in place to help you avoid a bad outcome.

Before Using the AAI Checklist

Reviewing the AAI checklist is just one of the steps in your avalanche education journey. Prior to using it in real-time, you should have already taken at least an Avalanche Level 1 Course.

Avalanche education should be ongoing to keep these fundamental processes fresh in your mind. However, once you are ready for your first ski tour, the AAI Checklist is a great place to start.

Step #1: Pre-Trip Plan

In your pre-trip planning, you will be discussing the following with your partner BEFORE you head out for your tour:

  • current conditions, including recent avalanches, the weather, and the avalanche forecast
  • identify current avalanche problems
  • what kind of terrain is appropriate for the day and what is off-limits
  • check to see if anyone has concerns with the plan (this helps to build teamwork before leaving on the tour)
  • check to see that everyone has appropriate travel and rescue gear

Step #2: Identify Avalanche Terrain

  • Is the terrain consistent with the pre-trip plan?
  • Any signs of instability? (cracking, collapsing, avalanches?)
  • What is the likelihood, size, and consequence of an avalanche in the avalanche terrain you are considering?
  • No Go/Go decision?
  • Any concerns? Anything else influencing your decision?
  • Plan for travel?

Step #3: Post Trip Discussion

After you return from the field, you’ll want to make time to de-brief with your travel companion.

  • Any bad decisions today?
  • Did you manage terrain well? Any improvements?
  • Did the conditions match the avalanche forecast?
  • Any concerns for future tours?
  • Any observations you can submit to the local forecast center?

Before Your Head Out the Door

So before you head out the door, keep in mind that reviewing the AAI checklist is just one of the steps to learning how to travel in avalanche terrain. You should have already taken at least an Avalanche Level 1 Course.


Are you interested in further improving your snow safety knowledge and staying sharp for your next backcountry adventure? Check out our current course offerings:

We are proud supporters of the American Avalanche Association. A3 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to professional excellence in avalanche safety, education, and research in the United States.

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