Pacific Northwest Ski/Snowboard Mountaineering

Leadership & Guide Training Course
(12 & 24 days)

Skiing above treeline in the Cascades. -Eli Fierer

The North Cascades are blessed with some of the biggest snowfall totals in the world, up to 700 inches annually! The glaciated peaks and wide variety of terrain make this a world-class skiing and mountaineering area.

The climate of the Pacific Northwest, with its strong westerly flow, and the large vertical relief of the mountain ranges, combine to produce enormous annual snow depths. Imagine leading your group through a crevassed icefall, floating through a treed slope in three feet of powder, rappelling into a narrow chute, or digging a snow pit to assess the avalanche danger in the dramatic peaks of the North Cascades. The variety of terrain and substantial snow coverage make this course ideal for people trying to develop their backcountry skills.

On this IWLS course you’ll learn the combination of skills that enable you to climb challenging peaks and carve big descents. It’s the ideal platform for individuals interested in becoming professional guides, or those looking to improve skills and leadership abilities in a challenging and spectacular setting.

THE INSTRUCTORS AND GUIDES OF IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.


THE IWLS GENERAL CURRICULUM outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that your course will focus on.

  • Leadership: Opportunities to lead the group will be abundant and you’ll have the time to learn and practice multiple styles of leadership.
  • Navigation: Learn how to take a bearing, read a topographical map, triangulate your position, and navigate in a whiteout.
  • Safety and Risk Management: Safety is always the #1 consideration. As the course progresses, you’ll develop an awareness to appropriately asses risk and make safe decisions.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet it is our duty to respect the natural world. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace ® principles.

-Ben Williams

IWLS SKI & SNOWBOARD CURRICULUM is developed for riders at or above the advanced intermediate level. Here are some points that will be covered during your course

  • Site Selection: Learn how to choose the appropriate terrain and identify hazards to facilitate a safe, fun time in the mountains
  • Snow Conditions: Whether skiing deep powder, spring corn, or breakable crust, learn how to identify variable conditions and employ different techniques to enjoy them safely.
  • Glacier Travel on Skis: When to rope up? How to read crevasse danger? How to ski safely on a rope team? All of these questions will be answered as we travel, ski, and board across icefields.
  • Routefinding: Both descents and ascents demand good routefinding skills. You’ll develop your hazard assessment and navigation skills to be able to find the safest, most efficient route.

-Austin Peters

IWLS MOUNTAINEERING CURRICULUM is built from countless expeditions in Alaska and around the world. You’ll learn how to be a competent and proficient mountaineer in a variety of different environments. Below are some topics we’ll cover.

  • Belaying: Should we use a fixed belay or a running belay? Our team will learn and practice the finer points of different belay techniques such as the hip belay, running belay, boot axe belay, fixed belay, and more!
  • Ascending: Fixed lines are an important tool for large groups and guiding applications. We’ll learn how to efficiently use, build and maintain them.
  • Rope Teams: Rope team travel is a complicated endeavor that requires skill, technique and teamwork. We’ll cover everything from prussic arrangement to team management.
  • Objective Hazards: Rock fall, river crossings, and avalanches are examples of objective hazards. Learn how to identify such hazards and minimize group exposure.

-Eli Fierer

IWLS AVALANCHE CURRICULUM is a nationally recognized progression of material that prepares students to be safe backcountry travelers.

  • Avalanche Characteristics: We’ll examine loose snow, wet snow, soft slab, and hard slab avalanches along with some potential triggers. You’ll learn the definition of terms such as stauchwall, alpha angle, and bed surface.
  • Snow Stability Evaluation: Is this snow capable of avalanching? Learn tests such as compression test and rutschblock test that will help you evaluate layers within the snowpack. Develop your documentation skills for accurate recording and analysis of information.
  • Safe Winter Travel: As a group, we will travel safely through avalanche terrain. Considerations will include cornices, equipment selection, route finding, campsite selection, and effective communication.
  • Avalanche Rescue: Someone buried in an avalanche has an 87% chance of survival if found within the first fifteen minutes. We’ll practice using probes, beacons, and effective search patterns in order to quickly and efficiently find a buried person.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL No previous experience is necessary for this course. However, with a desire to learn and an enthusiasm for adventure, you’ll develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of wilderness exploration.

CERTIFICATIONS upon completion of the 24-day course, participants may qualify for the following certifications:

Level 1 Avalanche Certification*
International Wilderness Leadership School

24 Day Guide Training Certificate of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School

*Dependent on weather and season

DATES & PRICES Please see our schedule for current dates and price information.