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.

New Zealand 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 situation has greatly improved. But this still requires people to have the correct equipment, know the risks, and how to avoid them when venturing out into the backcountry.

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.

  • Avalanche transceivers should be worn by every person entering the backcountry. 
  • Shovelling is an extremely important aspect of avalanche rescue. A proficient and strategic shovelling technique can save you minutes, which is critical for the buried person.
  • A probe is what will actually find the person, and thus is a critical piece of gear.  
  • Other recommended gear includes a distress beacon, inclinometer, map, 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 (and in each direction)?
  • Do you have enough experience for this trip?
  • Is it within the ability of everyone in the group?
  • Have you factored in enough time in case it takes longer than expected?
  • How will you manage fatigue on the way home?
  • What is the avalanche forecast?
  • How will you test the snowpack when you get there and what signs of instability will you be looking for?
  • Have you factored in enough time in case it takes longer than expected?
  • Does everyone in the group have all the gear they'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

If skiing in bounds as part of your trip, remember to adhere to the 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

What to do next

Continue your preparation with our online resources, there is still plenty to learn to ensure for a safe and enjoyable trip!

Explore our resources

  • Try Online Avalanche Course | Here you can learn about avalanches and how to keep yourself safe
  • Watch our Videos | Learn about crampons, ice axes, and basic route finding to get you started
  • Get the skills | in Navigation, Avalanche Awareness and more essentials in our Skills Section
  • Attend a course | Find a provider near you