An exploration of the culture, behaviours and attitudes of the NZ mountaineering community towards avalanche safety.
Published February 2023
The New Zealand mountaineering community is one full of rich history and deep passion. Mountaineering is interwoven into the fabric of our country’s history. From Māori using passes to move through the mountain ranges, to more modern-day heroics such as Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountains of Aotearoa are part of our identity.
MSC analysis of avalanche incident data between 1999-2018 highlighted that of the 27 avalanche fatalities in New Zealand during this period, 70% of them involved mountaineers. These findings naturally raised some questions – why are mountaineers in New Zealand so overly represented in avalanche fatalities?
There could be many explanations for this, and it’s unlikely there is just one reason. Factors could include our dynamic climate and ever-changing weather, or our unique terrain. MSC decided to embark on a body of work to understand more about the element we know the least about, and the one we may have the most ability to influence, the human factors. Specifically, the attitudes, behaviours and ultimately the mountaineering community culture towards avalanche safety.
We encourage readers to carefully think about the findings presented throughout Above and Beyond, and as you do, to reflect on your own experiences and avalanche-related practices, both past and in the future.
Our hope is that these findings will provide the platform for a healthy conversation and reflection, paving the way for improved mountaineering specific avalanche safety in New Zealand, and perhaps other parts of the world.
This research was presented at the International Snow Science Workshop in Bend, Oregon, October 2023.
Watch the video of the presentation by Nathan Watson and Tom Harris.
We are looking for real stories from the mountains
This research has identified the importance of sharing experiences and learnings. These stories provide valuable insights and first-hand accounts that other mountaineers can benefit from. We'd like to hear from mountaineers who have experienced an avalanche, or made the decision to turn around or change objectives due to your assessment of the conditions. Your story doesn't need to be an epic adventure!
We would like to sincerely thank everyone who has played a part in the research project. From the organisations who partnered with us to support the concept and share the survey, to the external advisory panel, the mountaineers who were willing to sit down with us and share their stories of avalanche involvements, through to the over 700 mountaineers who completed the survey - we thank you.