Winter Backcountry Preparedness for Youth

The Niko program is purpose-built youth avalanche education meant to fill gaps in nationwide curriculum. Most avalanche programming has been developed for adults and therefore does not address known differences in the ways young people learn and retain information.  The NIKO program teaches open communication within a team and builds confidence in both leadership skills and risk management techniques. Students learn skills and techniques for winter backcountry travel to support their decision-making process and apply these tools in the field.

The Niko Program was born out of the tragic accident in February of 2018 near Snoqualmie Pass where two teenagers were killed in an avalanche. Niko Suokko, an 18-year-old backcountry enthusiast, was one of the boys who lost their lives.

Following the accident, NIKO18.LIFE was founded by members of Niko’s extended family, to carry his legacy and to develop an entirely new approach to youth avalanche education. Supported by a memorial fund under Niko’s name within NWAC, NIKO18.LIFE and NWAC together started the journey that eventually lead to a creation of the NIKO program.

The NIKO curriculum was developed by working groups of experts in youth education, adolescent brain development, avalanche/snow science, and risk management. The result is a five-week program, both in class and in the field, to provide adolescents with the tools they need to recreate more safely in the wintertime mountains. In the process of creating this program, we also conducted a global study of youth avalanche education programs across nearly 40 avalanche education organizations around the world.

The first NIKO program was piloted at the Mountaineers Adventure Club in Seattle, WA in the winter of 2019/2020. This winter season, The NIKO Program will go through a second set of pilot courses, partnering with select organizations in Washington, California and Idaho. The goal is to extend the program broadly through course providers nationwide for the 2021/2022 winter season.

For program provider opportunities, contact the NIKO Program Manager, Outi Villet at outi@nwac.com.

If you are a teenager interested in becoming a NIKO student next season, follow updates on this page and on the NIKO Facebook.

To support the NIKO program through Niko Suokko Memorial Fund https://www.nwac.us/nikodonation/

To learn more about Niko’s life: https://niko18.life/