Hakuba Avalanche Courses

All courses are taught in Hakuba by Canadian Avalanche Association Professional Member, Damian Banwell. We have taught 50 Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses and are are known for our professional organisation, effective instructional technique and personal enthusiasm. Please read what some of our very happy customers have said.

Customer Testimonials

"I am a professional instructor and wish I could do my job as well as Damian does his. This course is very well taught"

"Damian was very professional and thoughtful in his approach, and had a lot of experience in avalanche terrain which he shared very effectively. The AST Level 1 course opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the mountains which I would highly recommend to all sidecountry and backcountry skiers."

Read more testimonials here

Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 Course in Hakuba

The AST 1 is an introductory avalanche course developed by Avalanche Canada (formerly called the Canadian Avalanche Centre). It is designed to give you an entry level avalanche decision making framework for recreational use. It does NOT train you to work in the avalanche industry. On successful completion you will receive an AST 1 certificate and also be able to move onto more advanced recreational and professional avalanche training within the curriculum.

Please note: ski/splitboard touring equipment is mandatory. No snowshoes, sorry. If you are renting you only need to rent touring skis/splitboard for Sunday.

Course Duration

The course is designed by Avalanche Canada to be delivered over two and half days and requires a minimum of 7 hours classroom time and one full day in the field.
Day 1: 4pm-8pm classroom time
Day 2: morning classroom, afternoon companion rescue training outdoors
Day 3: backcountry instruction and more companion rescue training


Remember that all courses start late in the afternoon on the first day.

Unfortunately due to other uncertainties, we are unable to offer a guaranteed schedule at this time. This is what we have:

Dec 25-26-27. This course is happening. Please book.

The following courses are scheduled but may be cancelled. Please indicate your interest. No payment is required until the course date is confirmed.
Jan 22-23-24
Feb 12-13-14
Feb 19-20-21

Please accept our apologies for the schedule uncertainty.


20,000 yen

Course Size

Limited to 8 people.


Two and a half days of instruction, course text and Avaluator, plus some transport.

Please note: you will likely need to buy a one-ride lift ticket to access backcountry terrain from high in resort areas. These tickets typically cost 1,500 yen. Tips are not customary in Japan and any offered will be politely declined.

It is expected that you have the basic ability to ski/snowboard off-piste terrain with trees. The field day is reasonably strenuous and not suitable for people with injuries.

PLEASE NOTE: this course does not include personal emergency mountain rescue insurance. It is your personal responsibility to insure yourself against any expenses incurred if you are injured during the course.

What you will learn

We proudly choose to stick the the true AST 1 curriculum for your longer term benefit. What we teach is briefly summarised here with a very detailed description further below. It is well worth reading before deciding on a course provider. On the field day we will go ski touring and visit at least one well known avalanche path in the Hakuba area to apply your classroom training.

  • Introduction to the Formation and Nature of Avalanches
  • Introduction to Avalanche Terrain
  • Terrain Traps
  • Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale
  • Avalanche Danger Ratings and Forecasts
  • Decision Making Competence
  • Trip Planning - Introduction to the Avaluator
  • Trip Planning - Weather
  • Trip Planning - Human Factors
  • Trip Planning - Equipment and Emergency Plans
  • Avalanche Slope Assessment
  • Good Travel Habits
  • Companion Rescue

Required Equipment

You will also require the basic backcountry kit. Please contact us for rentals.

  • Backcountry backpack. More than 30 litres strongly recommended.
  • Touring skis/Splitboard and skins. No snowshoes, sorry.
  • Avalanche transceiver (3 antenna digital is compulsory).
  • Avalanche probe
  • Avalanche shovel
  • Sunglasses and goggles (sunglasses are important)
  • Warm jacket
  • Packed lunch and drink

    If you want to know even more info then read on...

AST 1 Course Bookings & Enquiries

Please leave blank if you are unsure which course you would like to attend.
Please ask any question, we are happy to help out. If you would like to book, please indicate your preferred dates, equipment needs, skill level and fitness limitations along with any other information.

Detailed AST 1 Curriculum

Here is what we will teach you in detail. Before deciding on an AST provider, perhaps compare curriculums. The following is all first taught in the classroom. The final day applies these skills in the field and you will back in the carpark by 4.30pm latest. Our course NEVER run over time or finish in the dark. We stick to the schedule.

The AST Level 1 curriculum that we are proud to teach is as follows:

Formation and Nature of Avalanches
Starting with the very basics of snow layering, vital signs of instability and the importance of always observing snow and paying attention in the mountains. We then move onto the different types avalanches, including categorising by size and destructive force.

Avalanche Terrain
How to recognise it, with focus on the key characteristics of avalanche start zones and within them, areas of weakness where triggering an avalanche is more likely.

Terrain Traps
Why they are so dangerous, and why you should minimise your exposure to them when possible.

Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES)
An introduction to the concept of classifying mountain snow terrain by it's seriousness. Similar to how climbing routes or even scuba dives are ranked. Learn to look at terrain differently. An essential part of trip planning.

Avalanche Danger Ratings and Public Avalanche Forecasts
The second second part to trip planning. How to read them and understand the very useful info they contain. Hakuba now has a world-class avalanche bulletin provided by the Japan Avalanche Network, which we will us in our training. (See the Hakuba avalanche bulletin here

Decision making Competence
This is a compulsory subject that must be taught in all AST1 courses and it makes perfect sense why. We discuss the differing levels of training and experience that will help move you up the competency spectrum, and what decision making support systems you might use at each level. The purpose of this is to remind ourselves that overstepping our training and experience often leads to avalanches. This is a reality check.

Trip Planning
One of the fundamental pillars of a well taught AST 1 course. Trip planning is broken into four sections:

  • When and where to go
  • Weather
  • Who to go with: Human Factors
  • What equipment to take
  • Slope Assessment
    The second pillar to w well taught AST1 course. We will use Avalanche Canada's essentialSlope Evaluation Card as a systematic way of assessing the safety of a slope. All the fundamental tools in your tool box will be combined at this stage to provide you with an amazing method of slope evaluation. It is from here on that you will start to develop a mountain brian that thinks like an avalanche. Many students have an "a-ha!" moment when they see that understanding the interaction between snow and terrain shape is the key to avalanche safety.

    Good Travel Habits
    How should you move through the mountains? What are the basic skills, and what skills are required to move through avalanche terrain, particularly as a coordinated group. How do you use terrain to minimise exposure to avalanche hazard? We finish this session with a number of exercises planning routes using local terrain photographs. Everyone usually loves the lesson.

    Companion Rescue
    No matter how well trained and experienced you are in avoiding avalanches, you need to be equally as well trained in rescuing your friends if something goes wrong. After 30 minutes of burial, you only have a 20% chance of still being alive. Twenty minutes of burial is not much prettier! So we focus on applying the most modern techniques of using the most advanced avalanche transceivers to save time. But it doesn't stop there: strategic probing and shoveling is also taught, and makes a huge difference. During the field day you will take part in at least 2 rescue scenarios. We prefer to split you into smaller groups to practice the scenarios. Although this takes more time, you will learn much more this way. At the end of the day you will take part in the most realistic scenario we can create over a large piece of sloped terrain.

    At the end of all that you will be well prepared to go into the backcountry and make good decisions so long as you apply what you leant.

    Something new for 2015/16 season

    Our AST2 courses will continue to be run over 5 days, however those 5 days will be spread across a 7 day window. The extra days allow us to avoid bad weather, which can really detract from a course. This strategy also allows for a rest day to help achieve peak performance. Or, students can use the spare days to go out without their instructor looking over their shoulders and apply some training. Yes, we have just made a long course even longer, which will make it hard for some to attend. But we are not about the volume, rather the experience. Courses also continue to be limited to 4 people.

    The Avalanche Skills Training Level 2 (AST 2) course has been prepared by the Avalanche Canada (formally called Canadian Avalanche Centre) and provides an intermediate level of avalanche decision making. It is recommended as the vital next step after completing the entry level AST 1 course and gaining some experience. This is a recreational course. It DOES NOT train you to work in the avalanche industry.

    We teach the prescribed Avalanche Canada course per the instructor's manual. Before enrolling please understand that we will not teach you some magic trick to stay safe in avalanche terrain. What we will do is coach you in a very valuable process of planning backcountry trips, gathering field data and making adjustments to your tour as required to manage risk. This course DOES NOT focus on studying snow crystals nor a wide variety of stability tests.


    55,000 yen


    5 days of instruction. Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain fieldbook. Daily transport within Hakuba.

    Course Size

    Limited to 4 people.


    5 days between Jan 9 to 15 inclusive. Tentatively full. Please email to join the waiting list.

    Unfortunately we can not offer a second course this season, despite overwhelming demand.

    OUR COURSE IS SPECIAL: One day in the classroom followed by 4 full days of backcountry touring using the excellent Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain fieldbook extensively. Class size is limited to only 4 people rather than the usual 8. This significant benefit allows personal and instant attention from the instructor, and also effective student interaction when trip planning and touring. Post-trip reviews and planning for the next day are all held in my (damian's) home, using my maps and photos projected onto a screen. As part of the course, you get to live my very active Hakuba backcountry life for 5 days. You will learn to plan trips and execute them properly.

    IMPORTANT: the AST2 is not simply additional technical knowledge to top-up the AST1. The AST2 is a more advanced course that assumes AST1 skills have been practiced in the backcountry, and that you have now reached the stage where more coaching is required to reach the next level of avalanche decision making and trip planning. The focus, as per the official Avalanche Canada curriculum which we follow, is trip planning and decision making based on observations. It is not a snow science course and there is only limited pit-digging in the curriculum. See below for details on what you will learn.


    The AST 2 is a separate 5 day course that comes after completing the AST 1. The first two days are not a repeat of AST 1 material.

    • AST 1 course or equivalent and be able to provide your certificate in advance.
    • Time in the backcountry applying what you learnt in the AST 1 course.
    • Know how to use the Avaluator from the AST 1.
    • Understand ATES from the AST 1.
    • Pre-course reading: Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.

    Please note: most days you will need to buy a one-ride lift ticket to access backcountry terrain from high in resort areas. These tickets typically cost 1,500 yen. Tips are not customary in Japan and any offered will be politely declined.

    AST 2 Course Bookings & Enquiries

    Please leave blank if you are unsure which course you would like to attend.

    Required Equipment

    All participants MUST have their own mountain rescue insurance covering backcountry skiing and helicopter expenses.

    • Splitboard and touring skis with skins. No snowshoes, sorry.
    • Digital 3 antenna transceiver. This course will not teach using old analog transievers as they are now becoming obsolete
    • 35 liter pack or larger

    A detailed gear list will be provided after booking. Snow crystal loupes are not required as it is not part of the AST 2 curriculum.

    What you will learn

    The focus is maximising hands-on training in the backcountry with a very small class size to allow for valuable personal attention and the best learning possible. Using the Avaluator tools along with the excellent Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain fieldbook, you'll be coached in applying structured avalanche decision making based on good habits in snow, weather and terrain observations. We'll all participate in planning our backcountry trips, making decisions and then reviewing the decisions made each evening. Under the supervision of instructors on the last day, students will plan and lead their own backcountry tour applying all that they have learnt.

    Before deciding on an AST provider, perhaps compare curriculums. The AST Level 2 curriculum that we are proud to teach comes directly from the official Instructors Manual:

    Classroom Theory Lessons

    • AST 1 Review
    • Introduce the Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain fieldbook
    • Avalanche Types and Character
    • Leadership and Travel in Avalanche Terrain
    • Companion Rescue Theory
    • Avalanche Decision Making Support Systems
    • Terrain Investigation using maps and photos
    • Post Trip Review Process
    • Understanding Avalanche Danger
    • Local Avalanche Danger Investigation & Verification
    • Confidence in Decision Making
    • Trip Planning

    Field Practical Lessons

    • Trailhead Procedures
    • Group Management and Travel Techniques
    • Companion Rescue
    • Avalanche Terrain, Route Finding and Terrain Verification
    • Investigating Avalanche Activity
    • Investigating Signs of Unstable Snow
    • Investigating Loading
    • Investigating Thaw Instability
    • Local Snowpack Observations*
    • Personal Local Avalanche Danger Investigation
    • Route Finding Options and Alternatives

      * This includes conducting simplified Compression and Rutscheblock tests. However, keep in mind that the importance of information taken from snow pits is often seriously over emphasised. Snow pits should not factor heavily into your avalanche hazard analysis and as such are not a dominant part of the modern AST 2 course.

    Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain Fieldbook

    The entire course is tied together using the Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain fieldbook which has been developed by Avalanche Canada. Along with a pencil, this note book lives in your pocket and is intended to guide you through a structured decision making process for travelling in avalanche terrain. It is modelled after the methods used by avalanche professionals and is designed to help you plan your backcountry trip, record your observations, support your decision making in the field and aid post trip reflection. These are the primary components of comprehensive avalanche risk management.

    AST 2 Course Bookings & Enquiries

    Please leave blank if you are unsure which course you would like to attend.

    One-day course focusing on avalanche rescue training with the latest techniques and technology.

    The field-based Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) Course has been prepared by the Avalanche Canada and can only be taught by those licensed to do so. The focus is purely on avalanche rescue training. Just like the AST courses, it is based on high quality instructional materials and specific instructor training and on completion you are given a course certificate.

    Price Course Size
    9,000 yen per person Limited to 8 people

    Includes Dates
    • One full day of training
    • Transport
    Please enquire

    If you have a large group and our scheduled dates do not suit, please get in touch and we will see what can be arranged.

    Please note: you may need to buy a one-ride lift ticket to access backcountry terrain from high in resort areas. These tickets typically cost 1,500 yen.

    The day is reasonably strenuous and not suitable for people with injuries.

    About the Course

    This course is open to anyone, however ideally those enrolling will be looking to update and improve upon avalanche search and rescue abilities learned in the Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 course. It is suitable for any snowmobilers, skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers, and/or snowshoers who recreate in avalanche terrain.

    The one-day Companion Rescue Refresher will train students in any or all of the below, depending on what is requested. This course is quite flexible and can be customised to meet the needs of the group:

    • Consider and incorporate preventative measures (compulsory)
    • Prioritize actions if caught in an avalanche
    • Understand the function of airbags
    • Understand transceiver functions and practice transceiver skills
    • Apply avalanche search and rescue techniques
    • Practice searching without a transceiver
    • Consider multiple burial situations
    • Organize a group rescue
    • Identify Post-incident considerations

    Along with refreshing skills, you will get a very good foundation in how to conduct worthwhile avalanche rescue training scenarios beyond simply hiding a transceiver in a car park.

    Note that this training DOES NOT replace a full 2.5 day AST Level 1 course, where you learn how to avoid avalanches - a core skill of any backcountry traveller.

    Required Equipment

    You will require full ski/boarding clothes and equipment and the basic backcountry kit. Please contact us for rentals:

    • A ski/board backcountry backpack that is specially designed to carry skis/boards if required.
    • Avalanche transceiver (3 antenna digital is compulsory)
    • Avalanche probe
    • Avalanche shovel
    • Either snowshoes or climbing skins and touring bindings/splitboard
    • Sunglasses and goggles (sunglasses are important)
    • Warm jacket
    • Packed lunch and drinks

    CRS Course Bookings & Enquiries

    Please leave blank if you are unsure.
    Please ask any question, we are happy to help out. If you would like to book, please indicate your preferred dates, equipment needs, skill level and fitness limitations along with any other information.