Backcountry avalanche terrain is neither patrolled nor controlled by professionals, so if you’re planning on going ‘out back’ or beyond the ski area boundary, it’s important to be well trained in avalanche safety and rescue techniques at all times of the year. This is equally important for alpine climbers, trampers and hunters who may be in avalanche prone regions.
Within seconds of an avalanche being triggered, multiple tonnes of snow can travel down a slope at over 100km an hour. This immense force of nature is extremely dangerous so it is vital for you know how to mitigate the risks in avalanche prone areas.
Read Avalanche Accidents in Aotearoa 2002
Here is the story of a survivor Jamie - Avalanche Rescue September 2016
Watch and learn from our video: Trip Planning and Preparation
To be avalanche aware, you need to have three key components nailed before you head to the backcountry.
The necessary skills and training to identify and avoid avalanches and rescue others when things go wrong
2. Get the forecast
The current weather forecast and avalanche advisory for the region you'll be in are essential to decide whether to go or not. The New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) is provided for anyone planning on travelling in backcountry avalanche terrain. Please note that avalanche forecasts are supplied by the Mountain Safety Council (MSC) and are intended as an advisory only. NZAA and MSC recommend checking the mountain weather forecast provided by MetService as part of your trip planning.
In the event of an avalanche rescue, you need the equipment to save your own or someone else's life. Carry avalanche transceivers, probes, and metal-blade shovels and know how to use them.
Avalanche terrain is anywhere where there is a slope steep enough for an avalanche to occur, or somewhere downslope in the firing line of a potential avalanche. If you haven't done any training, you might not even know you're in it!
While you are out in avalanche terrain, it will take your skills and concentration to analyse the snowpack using recommended tests and observations to assess the likelihood of an avalanche being triggered. Check your surroundings for recent avalanche activity, changes in terrain, snowpack and weather. Learn how to recognise avalanche terrain, and when an instability exists, know how to avoid the problem.
Even with the forecast, conservative decision-making, and careful route planning, you might need to apply your rescue techniques in the event of an avalanche. Watch the video below to learn what this might entail and book a practical course to learn how to save a life.
Continue your education in avalanche safety with our online resources and useful links.