"Safety in the outdoors is a result of thorough planning and good decision making" - Mike Daisley, MSC CEO
This is especially true when you're heading into avalanche terrain. It's essential to have a good understanding of the avalanche dangers present on the day. You'll also need to understand what the weather will be doing, the ability of your group and take the right gear. Make sure you also leave your plans with a trusted person back at home just in case there's an incident. For more on 'leaving your intentions' click here.
Quickly explore a section of this page
- Getting The Forecast
- Equipment Needs
- Weather Links
- Access Links
- Backcountry Ski Touring Book
- Ski Touring NZ
- DOC Alerts
- Leave Your Intentions
After you have decided which region of New Zealand you will be recreating in, the most important part of any trip planning stage is to check out the avalanche advisory for that region. Reading and understanding the avalanche advisory is one of the most important skills you needed to know before going out into avalanche terrain. If you are just starting out make sure you watch the 'how to video' to understand what all this information means. You need to know how to apply the forecast to the terrain you will be recreating in. The best way to learn this is to take an avalanche course.How to use the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) - YouTube
Public observations add to the official forecast and give some snapshots of what is going on in specific parts of the region you will be recreating in. Public observations are submitted by members of the public and can give you a more localized picture of what the snow and avalanche conditions are like. Make sure that you check the dates in which they were published to make sure they are still relevant.
Get the gear
Avalanche rescue equipment is equivalent to a seat belt in a car, it's the basic stuff that everyone needs. A transceiver, shovel, and probe should be viewed as one piece of rescue gear; you need to have all three pieces, not just one or two. Each person in your group must be carrying this gear so that everyone is capable of rescuing others and being rescued themselves.
Avalanche transceivers should be worn by every person entering the backcountry. Transceivers are small electronic devices that transmit a radio signal. In the event of an avalanche, the people who were not buried can switch their transceiver to the search mode and follow the signal towards a buried person(s). It is important to know how to use your transceiver. It is also important to know how to use generic search techniques. If you do not know what these are, we recommend you take an avalanche course before heading out. Remember, avalanche transceivers require lots and lots of practice to acquire and maintain proficiency.
Shovelling is an extremely important aspect of avalanche rescue. A proficient and strategic shovelling technique can save you minutes, which can make all the difference for a buried person. It is extremely important that you select a good shovel and practice as often as possible. What makes a good shovel? Needless to say, we all would like a light shovel, but you need to make sure that strength isn't compromised. Bigger is better, but it does need to fit into or on your pack. Plastic is not good! When exposed to cold temperatures and hard avalanche debris plastic breaks! Another important aspect is an extendable shaft. A shovel blade with a flat top is helpful for stepping on when chopping blocks and in hard avalanche debris.
Avalanche transceivers will bring you closer to the buried victim, but a probe is what will actually find the person. Probes are like sectional tent poles that snap together. Systematic probing allows you to pinpoint the exact location of the buried person, which indicates the direction you need to start digging towards. Some probes have centimetre markings, which is a great tool that allows a probe to serve as a ruler when you're figuring out how deep you'll need to dig for your partner.
Be aware of the weather
When heading out into avalanche terrain understanding the weather is absolutely essential. Not only do you need to know if you will get caught out in the rain/snow/wind but you will need to know how the forecasted weather will affect the snow throughout the day. For example, warm temperatures and sun could mean that you can only ski on specific aspects and elevations at certain times.
To find out the weather in your region check out the following sites,
Your guide to outdoor New Zealand. The Walking Access Mapping System has all the information you need to find publicly accessible land. Search to find where you are or want to go. Use different layers to display roads, marginal strips, reserves, territorial boundaries and conservation land.
It is common for ski-tourers or split-boarders to access the backcountry via ski areas. These ski areas will have policies for using the ski area in this fashion, and it is important to follow these for everyone's safety. If you're planning on accessing the backcountry in this way, check out our Backcountry Access Policies page first.
This book is your essential guide to the best backcountry touring and ski mountaineering in New Zealand. Whether you’re new to the world of backcountry snowsports, an enthusiast looking for inspiration, or an international traveller sampling what New Zealand has to offer, this guide will help you plan your next adventure. Read it here >>
If you are ever short of ideas or places to go and ski the Ski Touring NZ website is a great site where people can go and enter trips they have done, complete with maps of where they went and photos of the terrain.
Find out about changes in conservation areas that might affect the safety or enjoyment of your trip.
Knowing the terrain
Knowing where you are going and what type of terrain you will be in is important as this allows you to apply the avalanche forecast to that terrain. Maps are still the best way of doing this. This can be done on the topographical map that is on the NZAA homepage. This map will allow you to see the contour lines of the terrain showing you what elevation and aspect you will be in. This will also allow you to see any public observation that has been made for that region, giving you more essential avalanche information.
Other commonly used maps that can help you in planning your trip can be found below.
Tell someone your plans
In New Zealand, it’s expected you’ll tell someone what you’re doing and where you’re going before you go. We call it ‘leaving intentions.’ Because many outdoor locations are remote and have no mobile phone coverage, often with very few people around, if something does go wrong the only way our emergency services can help you is if they know you haven’t returned. Tell a trusted contact. If you’re visiting from overseas and your trusted contacts are back home you can still tell them about your plans.