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 are the hazards?

There are a few key hazards and issues that commonly present themselves in backcountry snowsports incidents and SAR callouts.

  • Getting lost - Particularly when visibility is poor or terrain has few easily recognizable features (Mt Ruapehu is common for these types of issues). This is also usually a problem for folks venturing just outside the ski boundary rather than people heading out on planned backcountry trips. 
  • Falls - There have been numerous cases of people skiing/boarding over cliff drops unintentionally. This has resulted in numerous minor to severe injuries. Make sure you understand the terrain below you and when in doubt, scope it out first before committing.
  • Hypothermia - This often results from one of the above incidents occurring. Make sure to have plenty of warm layers and waterproof outers to keep you dry and warm. Carrying plenty of food and water will keep your body's engine humming too.
  • Avalanches - Avalanches have the potential to kill skiers or boarders that are caught in them. 

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 Learn 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

Access Links

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.

Backcountry Ski-Touring in New Zealand Guidebook

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 >>

Ski Touring NZ

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.

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 basic route finding, avalanche awareness and much more to get you started
  • Get the skills | in Navigation, Avalanche Awareness and more essentials in our Skills Section
  • Attend a course | Find a suitable provider near you