As told by an avalanche forecaster | Chris Cochrane

Knowing a mountainous region like the back of your hand is a special skill, but it’s the reality for the forecasters of the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory’s (NZAA) 12 regions. 

The NZ Mountain Safety Council chatted to Chris Cochrane from the Queenstown region in the 2021 about how snow conditions have changed significantly over four decades and what it means to be an avalanche forecaster.  

It's his 40th season as a heliski guide in the region – yep, not a misprint. He came onboard with the NZAA in 2002, so it’s safe to say he has plenty of experience.  

What is unique to your forecasting region and why?   

The large Queenstown forecast region encompasses many backcountry areas from Cardrona in the north, Mt Larkins (Glenorchy) and Coronet Peak through to Mt Hyde to the west, the Snow Farm to the east and the full length of the Remarkables range to Kingston at the Southern end of the region, not to mention in amongst these ranges are peaks above 2300m. 

Because of the region’s geographical position, different weather patterns produce significantly differing snow events, by this I mean that a NW storm will see different snow pattern to that of a southerly or easterly storm, which makes this region totally different from anywhere else in the country. 

For example, a 50cm snow fall from the NW at Coronet peak may only be 15cm across the lake at the Remarkables and vice versa with a southerly blast.   

This is where the NZAA has become a valuable tool for backcountry users. We can direct users to areas that are perhaps sheltered from gale winds, where some great conditions can be had compared to another area that if you went there you may be spend the day on scoured windswept slopes, such is the positives of this region. If conditions are marginal somewhere, a 40-minute drive could have you in powder heaven.   

These are the intimate details I have about the region and always readily want to share with visitors and locals alike, our variety here of elevation, aspect and mountain ranges is truly unique, they are also accessible within a relatively short drive.   

However, this also produces its own unique problems with the backcountry accessible from four ski-fields.  

Read the full interview on NZ Mountain Safety Council's website