Avalanche Safety

Backcountry 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 search and rescue techniques at all times of the year. This is equally important for alpine trampers and hunters who may be in avalanche prone regions. 

Can you answer the following? 
  • Do you know how to recognise dangerous avalanche terrain?
  • Do you know how to use rescue equipment?
  • Do you have a transceiver, a probe and a shovel?
  • Do you know what weather sequences lead to avalanche conditions?
  • Have you checked the latest NZAA Backcountry Avalanche Forecast?

What makes avalanches so dangerous?

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 2020

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Here is the story of a survivor Jamie - Avalanche Rescue September 2016

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Prepare for your trip

Trip Planning and Preparation

  • Plan your trip route, check weather and avalanche advisory conditions on www.avalanche.net.nz.
  • Anticipate your actions. What you want to do often overrides your better judgement.

Three-platforms of avalanche awareness

To be avalanche aware, you need to have three key platforms nailed before you head to the backcountry.

1. Have the training

The necessary skills and training to identify and avoid avalanches and rescue others when things go wrong

  • Online Avalanche Course where you can learn the basics of avalanche types, factors and how to reduce risks in avalanche terrain
  • Attend an avalanche awareness course
  • Gather information from books, videos and websites

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2. Get the forecast

The current weather forecast and backcountry avalanche advisory is essential to decide whether to go or not. 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.

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3. Take the right equipment

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.

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When in alpine terrain

While you are out in alpine areas, it will take your skills and concentration to analyse the snowpack using recommended test to assess the likelihood of triggering an avalanche. Check your surroundings for recent avalanche activity, changes in terrain, snowpack and weather. Learn to recognise avalanche terrain, travel one at a time across potential avalanche slopes, 

Avalanche Rescue Techniques

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.


What to do next

Continue your education in avalanche safety with our online resources and useful links.

Explore our resources

  • Find a course | Find the suitable course provider to continue your learning in avalanche safety
  • Watch our avalanche safety videos | Learn how to cross a river safely and many more useful tips
  • Read our manuals | Access the NZ Bushcraft Manual, Alpine Skills Manual and other digitised resources here
  • Online Avalanche Course | Learn the basics of avalanche types, factors and how to reduce risks in avalanche terrain

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