MEDIA RELEASE: Warmer spring months call for continued avalanche caution
As the longer days and warmer temperatures kick in, the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) wants to remind outdoor enthusiasts that spring doesn’t mean the end of avalanche season.
At this time of the year there is increased recreational activity above the bush line as people start to move into summer adventure mode; alpine tramping, trail running, mountain biking, hunting and of course those who’re prepared to gain some more elevation in search of spring snow.
What this excitement for the warmer weather can overshadow is the fact that spring is an active time for avalanches, which can occur at any time of year when there is enough snow.
October through to January is mountaineering season so key alpine regions like Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring see a huge boost in activity. Ski touring also remains very popular through this period.
Between 1999 and 2018, 40% of avalanche fatalities in NZ have occurred between November to April. While there has not been an avalanche fatality in NZ since November 2018 that does not mean the risk has gone or that there couldn’t be one this spring or summer.
MSC Chief Executive Mike Daisley says it’s great to see people out at this time of year, especially since last year saw Covid-19 lockdown obstruct that.
“This time of the year comes with some additional risks associated to a warming snowpack and more sunlight, but if properly managed this shouldn’t prevent anyone from making it home safely.
“If the avalanche forecast is ‘low’ danger, which can be common at this time of the year, this doesn’t mean ‘no’ avalanches are possible. Be mindful of the terrain you’re in and how even a small avalanche could be dangerous,” he says.
MetService is forecasting heavy snow for the high alpine regions of the South Island on Friday, followed by fine weather over the weekend.
“The turbulent spring weather isn't done with us yet,” MetService meteorologist Luis Fernandes says.
Expect the avalanche danger to increase, particularly on aspects facing the sun, where the new snow will slide easily on the old surface. This can be a common theme throughout the summer months.
No matter where you’re heading out above the bushline, keep an eye on the avalanche advisory. Forecasting for all 13 regions is still underway and regions won’t close until the risk of avalanches has reduced further. Aoraki/Mt Cook forecasting continues all year round.
MSC encourages those heading into the backcountry to submit public observations of avalanches and snowpack conditions at avalanche.net.nz for fellow users and local forecasters to see.
Travelling safely in avalanche terrain requires three essential components - the skills, equipment and forecast. You can find out more here.
- Find the latest avalanche advisory at avalanche.net.nz
- Ensure you know the basics or get a quick refresher by completing this free online course
- Take a practical course and learn from professionals, find a list of them here
- Get an introduction to crampon and ice axe use with our Alpine Skills Series videos.
Contact Communications Advisor Rebekah Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org with any other queries.
PHOTO: NZAA Public Observation, Mike Irwin 25th September 2022