SPI, WFA, SRT, BASAR, SCUBA…These are just a few of the myriad certifications marketed to people who work and recreate outdoors. Certifications can feel like a black hole, slowly sucking in all of your time (and money), but not all certifications are created equally. Whether you’re pursuing a career in the outdoor industry, or you just spend every weekend chasing new lines and putting up new routes, here are some certifications that are worth pursuing.
Wilderness First Responder
You’re several miles from the nearest trailhead and you come across another hiker who’s struggling to breathe. It’s clear that they need help—do you know what to do? When you’re hours from a hospital and someone is injured, there’s nothing scarier than not knowing how to help. And, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, the odds are good that you’ll find yourself in a situation like this. Wilderness medicine was designed to teach people how to identify and treat a variety of injuries—from the mundane to the life-threatening. If you’re short on time, the Wilderness First Aid is a good introductory course, but consider investing in the eighty-hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, which is required for most jobs in the outdoor industry. Depending on your location you can find a course in your area with SOLO, Wilderness Medical Associates or NOLS Wilderness Medical Institute.
Skiing in the backcountry opens up a lot of terrain, but when you leave inbounds, you face the risk of avalanches. Although avalanche safety gear like the AvaLung and avalanche airbags have gone a long way toward mitigating some of the risks, they’re not replacements for good training. The basic course (Avy 1) gives students an overview of how to make safe decisions in avalanche terrain. During the three-day course, you’ll learn to read snow layers, judge slope angles, and understand snowfall history. Most courses in the States are run through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE).
Single Pitch Certification
If you’re not a climber, this isn’t the certification for you. If you are a climber, getting your Single Pitch Instructor certification with the American Mountain Guide Association will set you up well for guiding. It’s designed to test your ability to teach novices on single pitch routes and it’s required by most guide companies. It’s also a great step if you want to move into alpine guiding internationally since the AMGA’s curriculum can lead to being an IFMGA guide (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association).