Backcountry Snowsports

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is an exhilarating way to enjoy the beauty of the New Zealand winter. 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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Prepare for your trip

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 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?  
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.



Prepare for the risk of avalanches

You can find more about alpine and avalanche safety skills in our Resources section.

Learn more

Helpful Resources 

New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) 

Use to check the backcountry avalanche advisory and share your own observations with others.

Learn more

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  

Online Avalanche Course

Try it out

Outdoor Safety Code

The first thing to remember is that every trip needs a plan, quick run of two down the back bowl or sidecountry of your favourite ski resort. It doesn't take much to expose yourself to uncontrolled avalanche terrain or turn a quick ski or snowboard into an 'unexpected night out' in the snow. If you've planned before you enter the backcountry 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 out more about the Outdoor Safety Code below. 

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.

Subscribe to Info Ex


MSC worked with Epic TV to produce a five part avalanche safety series. 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 #2 - Epic TV video series

Watch the whole series HERE.

Episode #3 - Epic TV video series

Media Releases

Helpful Links 

MetService New Zealand - Get the mountain forecast

Find out more

Attend a Backcountry Avalanche Course - Visit our courses page

Find out more 

Learn about avalanches >>