Backcountry Snowsports

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is an exhilarating way to enjoy the beauty of the New Zealand winter wonderland.  Before you head out into the hills though, you've got to be prepared. Check the snow conditions, the avalanche risk and the weather.

NZ used to have a large problem with people getting caught out in avalanches. Since the implementation of avalanche forecasters, availability of training in avalanche awareness and technology aiding rescue the issue has largely been resolved. But this still requires people to know the risks and how to avoid them when venturing out into the backcountry. 

 

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Backcountry Avalanche Risk

MSC worked with Epic TV to produce a five part avalanche safety series. Watch the whole series HERE. The video series is designed to be a short beginners guide about avalanche risk, and some basic techniques. Please note: This video series is NOT designed to be a complete training course – we strongly recommend you get training and learn from the experts. Please visit the courses page for more details.

Episode #1 - Epic TV video series 


 

 

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Outdoor Safety Code

The first thing to remember is that every trip needs a plan, even a short day walk. It doesn't take much to turn a short walk into an 'unexpected night out' in the bush. If you've planned before you hit the track using the outdoor safety code as a guide, there's a good chance you'll be prepared to handle an unexpected turn of events. 

Safety is the outcome of good planning and good decision making
– Mike Daisley, MSC CEO
Find our more about the Outdoor Safety Code below. 

 

Key Resources 

New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) 

The New Zealand's Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) is provided for anyone planning on travelling in the New Zealand backcountry alpine areas.

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.

Forecasts

Head to the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) for forecasts about your local conditions. 

Head to the NZAA

 


Snow Safety Code

Know Your Limits
  • Ride to your ability, control your speed
  • Be aware of the conditions
  • Take a lesson
Find Your Space
  • Stop where you can be seen
  • Give others room
  • Look ahead
Protect Yourself 
  • Obey all signs and closures
  • Tired, take a rest
  • Wear a helmet


pdf Snow Safety Code pdf – 71 KB


 

Info EX

The Info-Ex is a cooperative service managed by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) and has been running since 1998. It provides a daily exchange of technical snow, weather and avalanche information between organisations and commercial businesses that actively manage avalanche hazards during the winter months (e.g. heliskiing companies, ski areas and land managers).

The Info-Ex data base allows subscribers to input and view daily weather, snowpack and avalanche observations giving avalanche professionals access to data that is accurate and relevant. This information improves each subscriber's awareness of the conditions across New Zealand, greatly enhancing their ability to manage their local avalanche risks. Info-Ex serves as one of the key sources of data used by the NZ Avalanche Advisory that forecasters use to produce and verify their avalanche advisories.

Head to the Info EX

Videos

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MSC worked with Epic TV to produce a five part avalanche safety series. Watch the whole series HERE. The video series is designed to be a short beginners guide about avalanche risk, and some basic techniques. Please note: This video series is NOT designed to be a complete training course – we strongly recommend you get training and learn from the experts. Please visit the courses page for more details

Episode #1 - Epic TV video series 

Episode #2 - Epic TV video series 

 

Mitigate The Risks

Manage Fatigue

Employ strategies for identifying and managing fatigue. Ensure this is considered as part of any pre-trip planning and pay this element the due respect it deserves during your trip. Allow time for adequate breaks to rest and take on food/water. Most importantly ensure the culture surrounding your trip allows for topics such as fatigue management to be part of your conversations and communication.

Plan each stage of the journey

Discuss, agree on and employ suitable travel options/modes in terrain where falling is possible, and could result in serious consequences. Pay particular attention to moderate terrain where typically mountaineers would travel un-roped.  

    • Avalanche Safety pamphlets and manuals
    • Avalanche assessor and rescue cards
    • and much more.

 

What Should I Take? 

In the event of an avalanche the difference between the life and death of a buried victim is minutes. You cannot afford to waste any time trying to figure out your gear! You need to be well practiced and efficient with the functions of your gear and your search and rescue system. Take a course and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!! 

  • Avalanche transceivers should be worn by every person entering the backcountry. 
  • Shoveling is an extremely important aspect of avalanche rescue. A proficient and strategic shoveling technique can save you minutes, which is critical for the buried person.
  • A probe is what will actually find the person.  
  • Other recommended gear includes an inclinometer, map and compass and a helmet. Go to avalanche.net.nz for more information.

Questions to consider before you head out 

  • What route are you planning to take?
  • How long will it take you?
  • Do you have enough experience to climb this mountain?
  • Is it within the limits of everyone in the group?
  • Have you factored in enough time in case it takes longer than expected?
  • How will you manage fatigue on your descent
  • Where are you planning to go?
  • How long will it take you to get there?
  • How long will it take you to get out again?
  • What is the avalanche forecast?
  • How will you test the snowpack when you get there?
  • Have you factored in enough time in case it takes longer than expected?
  • Do you have all the gear you'll need?  

 


 Links 

Head to the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) for forecasts about your local conditions. 

Head to the NZAA

Explore our insights
Find out more 

Read Outdoor Safety Code
 Find out more

Learn more about the risks of avalanches on our Avalanche safety section

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Join an alpine club - visit our clubs page

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Attend a Backcountry Avalanche Course - Visit our courses page

Find out more 

Head to our online store for relevant resources such as:

  • Avalanche Safety pamphlets and manuals
  • Avalanche assessor and rescue cards