Southern Lakes Avalanche Danger ‘Spooky’

7th July 2023|2min
Media Release | For immediate release

A series of human-triggered avalanches in the Southern Lakes area has NZ Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) forecasters reminding backcountry users not to underestimate the ‘spooky’ snowpack conditions.  

While some parts of the country received new snow during the last storm cycle, conditions are highly variable across the Southern Lakes area. In the Queenstown and Wanaka avalanche forecasting regions an early season persistent weak layer (PWL) has developed.   

Queenstown avalanche forecasters Chris Cochrane and Will Rowntree define the avalanche danger in the region as moderate and describe the current snowpack conditions as ‘a little spooky’.  

They’re reminding people that human triggered avalanches are possible at this danger level.  

“We are seeing backcountry users triggering avalanches on a daily basis - this is certainly not normal. The snowpack is getting weaker, not stronger, so we ask users for a conservative approach when planning a trip into the backcountry,” says Cochrane. 

On Wednesday, two backcountry skiers triggered a large size 2.5 avalanche behind The Remarkables Ski Area. The 250m wide avalanche carried one skier, who lost gear, but was luckily uninjured. The following day a further two large avalanches were triggered by backcountry users. 

While these events ended without tragedy, they are a timely reminder that the current conditions require a high degree of caution and vigilance.   

The current warning is also a good reminder for ice climbers and mountaineers as triggering even a small pocket of wind slab avalanche could result in a fall in difficult terrain, he says. 

NZ Mountain Safety Council Chief Executive Mike Daisley says that in the last week alone there has been a hive of activity around the Southern Lakes, especially out of bounds from The Remarkables Ski Area.  

“While it’s natural that everyone’s buzzing for a winter adventure, there’s a growing concern that luck could run out,” Daisley says. 

“If you’re thinking of heading out of the ski area boundary, it’s essential you are prepared for the backcountry. That means making sure you have checked the avalanche advisory and understand it.  

“Ensure you have avalanche rescue equipment and you know how to use it. Go with a buddy, and the right mindset. Be mentally prepared to assess the conditions and be prepared to turn back,” he says. 

Daisley says that during the early winter season, data and observations can be scarce. He encourages people to submit public observations via the NZAA website to share knowledge and any activity in the mountains.  

“Ski areas and heli ski operators have only recently started up for the season and with a slow start to the snow arriving we’re still in quite a low data period, this means our avalanche forecasters are building a picture of the snowpack with limited data, the public can really help us to help them by sharing observations.”  

The NZAA forecasters will update the 13 regional forecasts at on a daily basis, or as conditions change and new information becomes available.   


Are you avalanche ready? If you’re heading into the New Zealand back country this winter, be sure to: 

Submit a public observation here 

Hikers and trampers can find the avalanche forecast under alerts on Plan My Walk.  

Definition of persistent weak layer (PWL): A persistent weak layer is a weak layer in the snowpack that resists forming a strong bond to neighbouring grains in the snowpack over an extended time period. They can be composed of surface hoar, facets, or depth hoar. 

Header caption: The large size 250m wide avalanche triggered by a skier behind The Remarkables Ski Area on Wednesday (July 5). PHOTOS/SUPPLIED