Snow Safety in Selwyn

It’s hard not to get that powder hunting itch when skiing in the Selwyn Six, luckily there’s a huge variety of backcountry skiing available just off the back of the fields to scratch with. However, before you get into all of that backcountry goodness take a minute to evaluate the conditions.

Has it snowed in the last 24-48 hours?

Has it rained in the last 24-48 hours?

Do ski patrol know what you’re doing?

Do you know what you’re doing?

We’ve got some advice this week on snow safety in New Zealand’s backcountry, focusing primarily on avalanche safety and awareness.

Starting with the basics, what is an avalanche? An avalanche is a moving mass of snow on steep terrain, which has been triggered by adding weight/stress to a weak area of the snowpack. A couple of key points about that sentence, the avalanche terrain aspect sweet spot is between 30 and 45 degrees. This doesn’t mean that an avalanche won’t occur on a steeper or shallower slope, it’s just more rare. Weak snowpacks can be caused by a number of factors, common ones being fresh snow on rotten snow, or wind packed powder below a crest.

There’s only so much you can learn online though, and the best way to learn about avalanche avoidance, safety, and awareness is to attend an avalanche safety course. Fortunately the Selwyn District has numerous operators running snow safety courses throughout the winter, most of which are based in the club fields.

Anna Keeling Guiding & Licence to Chill

IFMGA certified mountain guide, Anna has been guiding around the Craigieburn Ranges for years, and has been taking custom tailored tours every winter since she returned home in 2009.

Licence to Chill has been operating in the Selwyn Six for 20 years now, and has always been active in promoting the use of the club fields and exploring the backcountry terrain on offer.

Anna and Chill have been working together for several years, offering snow safety courses based out of Porters and Cheeseman. These two day courses focus on the use of avalanche safety equipment for locating and rescuing avalanche victims. The first day is familiarization of the Transciever, Shovel, and Probe, and learning how to evaluate a snowpack based on weather reports and conditions on the day. Day two is a guided backcountry tour where Anna will point out examples of avalanche activity and possible avalanche locations.

Find out more about Anna Keeling Guiding on her website here, or learn about the Snow Safety Courses on offer by Licence to Chill here.

Broken River

BR is one of the more accessible and family friendly club fields, and they run several different avalanche safety courses throughout the winter with Anna Keeling and Irene Henninger, assistant snow safety officer at Porters Ski Area.

The Snow Safety for Youth course is aimed at ensuring that the younger generation is educated on the dangers of avalanches, and how to have fun in the backcountry without causing harm to themselves or others. This one day course is open to 12-18 year olds, and the max number of students is 12. This course focuses on obtaining avalanche information and the avalanche procedures at Broken River.

The two day Avalanche Awareness course consists of one day and one evening of avalanche education, and a one day off-piste ski clinic. The first day focuses on weather, avalanche terrain identification, companion rescue, and use of avalanche safety equipment. The second day has three hours of off-piste lessons aimed at increasing your skiing knowledge and skills in the backcountry.

Lastly, the five day Backcountry Avalanche Training Course is an in-depth course that covers all aspects of avalanche safety and rescue, and includes a day of off-piste clinics.

To find out about all of these courses or to book, check out the Broken River page here.

Avalanche NZ

At the end of the Avalanche Avoidance course the student should be able to:

  • Plan a trip – gather the necessary information to anticipate which terrain, weather, and snowpack conditions they will encounter to see if it is suitable for their group
  • Recognise avalanche terrain – identify terrain types/features that can produce avalanches
  • Describe a basic framework for making decisions in avalanche terrain – sticking to the facts and not being swayed by social and environmental influences (human factors)
  • Know how to spot common signs of unstable snow
  • Understand safe travel techniques – use techniques to minimise their exposure to the threat of an avalanche
  • Perform a companion rescue

NZSSI

Based in Temple Basin, the New Zealand Snow Safety Institute has access to some of the best terrain in New Zealand at its back door, literally! The NZSSI offers professional courses for those wishing to up-skill in mountaineering, alpine and rock skills. All courses are conducted at Temple Basin Ski Area in the middle of the Southern Alp’s Main Divide. All course fees include on mountain accommodation and meals. They have two set courses on offer, and can customize one to suit your ability and requirements.

Avalanche Awareness

This two day course is an ideal introduction for those skiers, snowboarders, climbers or trampers wishing to gain a basic level of understanding about avalanche safety. Covers terrain, weather, avalanche classification and formation, snowpack analysis, route finding and emergency procedures.

5 Day Backcountry Skills For Skiers And Snowboarders

This course is designed for skiers and snowboarders who wish to develop experience and technical expertise in the backcounty. Some aspects of the course will be optional, but it will be possible for you to learn essential survival skills, spend a night in a snow cave, learn what to do when travelling on ridges and glaciers, avalanche awareness and many other skills for skiers and boarders wanting to go back country. They aim to provide you with a five-day course that will allow you to safely explore the mountains off the beaten trail.

Private Courses – Tailored to suit your requirements.

If you are looking for specialist tuition for your alpine adventures but can’t find exactly the course you’re looking for then their private courses might be just what you’re looking for.