Avalanche Safety

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

Can you answer the following? 
  • Do you know how to recognise and avoid 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 New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) 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 2002


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


Prepare for your trip

Watch and learn from our video: Trip Planning and Preparation

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

Three components of avalanche safety

Safety in avalanche terrain diagram indicating 'forecast', 'equipment' and 'training'

To be avalanche aware, you need to have three key components 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

Read our full Story

2. Get the forecast

The current weather forecast and avalanche advisory for the region you'll be in are essential to decide whether to go or not. The New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) is provided for anyone planning on travelling in backcountry avalanche terrain. 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.

Read our full Story

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.

 Read our full Story

When in avalanche terrain

Avalanche terrain is anywhere where there is a slope steep enough for an avalanche to occur, or somewhere downslope in the firing line of a potential avalanche. If you haven't done any training, you might not even know you're in it!

While you are out in avalanche terrain, it will take your skills and concentration to analyse the snowpack using recommended tests and observations to assess the likelihood of an avalanche being triggered. Check your surroundings for recent avalanche activity, changes in terrain, snowpack and weather. Learn how to recognise avalanche terrain, and when an instability exists, know how to avoid the problem.

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
  • Plan My Walk app | Use our free planning tool to choose tracks, get avalanche forecast alerts, build a gear list and share your plan with others before you go.

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