It's essential to have a good understanding of the avalanche dangers present on the day. You'll also need to understand what the weather will be doing, the ability of your group, and make sure to take the right gear. It's also important that you leave your plans with a trusted contact just in case there's an incident.
Ensure you have the skills
First of all, ensure you have covered all three components of safety in avalanche terrain.
Get the forecast for your trip
After you have decided which region of New Zealand you will be recreating in, the most important part of any trip planning stage is to check out the avalanche advisory for that region. Reading and understanding the avalanche advisory is one of the most important skills you need to possess before going out into avalanche terrain. If you are just starting out, make sure you check out our NZAA User's Guide to understand what all that information means. You'll then need to know how to apply the forecast to the terrain you will be recreating in. The most effective way to acquire these skills is to take a practical, in-person avalanche course, but you can also get an introduction by taking our Online Avalanche Course.
Be aware of the weather
When heading out into avalanche terrain, understanding the weather is absolutely essential. Not only do you need to know if you will get caught out in the rain/snow/wind, but you will need to know how the forecasted weather will affect the snowpack throughout the day. For example, warm temperatures and sun could mean that you can only ski on specific aspects and elevations at certain times.
To find out the weather in your region check out the following sites,
Get the appropriate equipment for your trip
Depending on your trip, you will need to get special equipment for alpine or avalanche terrain. It is essential to learn about these items before you go.
Basic Outdoor Equipment
The things you take with you will make all the difference in the outdoors. It pays to do research, talk to those experienced in the outdoors, guides, professionals or trusted retailers, and invest in the right items for your comfort and safety. You can find basic gear information for NZ's outdoors on the NZ Mountain Safety Council website.
Snow Travel Equipment
In some cases, to safely traverse areas of snow you will need a helmet, crampons, and ice-axe. You can watch and learn about some of these items in our Snow Skills Series that covers:
- Walking with an Ice Axe
- Choosing and fitting crampons
- Cramponing techniques
Avalanche Rescue Equipment
Avalanche rescue equipment is equivalent to a seat belt in a car, it's the basic stuff that everyone needs. A transceiver, shovel, and probe should be viewed as one piece of rescue gear; you need to have all three pieces, not just one or two. Each person in your group must be carrying this gear so that everyone is capable of rescuing others and being rescued themselves.
You can learn about these items in our 'safety in avalanche terrain section'
Learn about where to go
Choose an area that suits your abilities and the conditions at the time. You can learn a lot from the resources outlined below that provide excellent suggestions for NZ's backcountry.
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 NZ 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 traveler 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 enter trips they have done, complete with maps of where they went and photos of the terrain.
Start designing a route with maps
Knowing the terrain
Knowing where you are going and what type of terrain you will be in is important as this allows you to apply the avalanche forecast to that terrain. Maps are still the best way of doing this and this can be done on the topographical map that is on the NZAA homepage. This map will allow you to see the contour lines of the terrain showing you what elevation and aspect you will be in. This will also allow you to see any public observation that has been made for that region, giving you more essential avalanche information.
Further resources for maps
Other commonly used maps that can help you in planning your trip can be found below.
Learn more about your chosen activity
NZ Mountain Safety Council has further activity-specific information you might need to consider as part of your planning.
Continue your learning
You can find more resources in our Learn section. Where we have information on avalanche safety and courses available around the country for getting the appropriate training, plus some excellent avalanche safety videos to get you started.