One of the most important pieces of equipment in our range of climbing gear is the small but live-saving avalanche transceiver. New Zealand’s Mountain Safety Council says that backcountry terrain is “not patrolled nor controlled by professionals”. Therefore, if you’re planning on heading beyond the ski area boundary during the upcoming season, or if you’re an alpine tramper or hunter who goes into avalanche-prone regions, you need to be prepared and that includes carrying the right equipment e.g avalanche transceivers, probes and metal-blade shovels. And, of course, you must know how to use them. It’s also vital that you’re trained in avalanche safety and search and rescue techniques. That’s why we recommend you contact the Mountain Safety Council for information on training, rescue techniques and more.
How well equipped you are to handle the risks in certain places depends very much on your experience. When it comes to being in the backcountry, and with avalanches top of mind, the Department of Conservation says there are three types of terrain to contend with:
- Simple (Class 1) terrain needs a combination of common sense, the right equipment, first aid skills, and being able to respect avalanche warnings. However, simple terrain typically has a low risk of avalanches which makes it ideal if you want to build up backcountry experience. But don’t be complacent. Trips in Class 1 terrain might not be entirely free from avalanche hazards. On days when the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory is rated as 'considerable' or ‘higher’, you should reconsider any travel into backcountry areas with exposure to avalanches - a good example is to stay within the boundaries of a ski area. If there is no advisory in the area, you or someone in your group should have done an avalanche awareness course so you know what danger signs to look out for.
- Challenging (Class 2) terrain requires that you have the skills to recognise and avoid avalanche-prone terrain as big slopes usually exist on these trips. You must also be able to understand avalanche advisories, perform self-rescue if an avalanche happens, perform basic first aid, and be confident in your route-finding skills. In terrain where an avalanche advisory is in place, you should have taken an avalanche course before heading into the area. If there is no advisory in place, you or someone in your group should have completed a four-day avalanche course. If you’re not confident in your own or your group’s ability to navigate through avalanche terrain, you might be better off engaging the services of a professional guide, normally an NZMGA qualified guide.
- Complex (Class 3) terrain demands a strong group with combined critical decision-making experience in avalanche terrain over many years. There are no safe options on these trips, with forced exposure to big slopes. At a bare minimum, you or someone in your group should have taken a four-day avalanche course and have several years of backcountry experience. You must always be prepared. Check the avalanche advisory regularly, and make sure that your entire group is up to what lies ahead and aware of the risks. If no advisory exists, everyone in the group should have taken the four-day course. As this is challenging country, you should reconsider if you’re confident in the collective skills of your group. If you’re unsure, hire a professional NZMGA qualified guide.
The Department of Conservation will be able to tell you where these different types of terrains are to be found, which will ensure you don’t end up in areas that present challenges beyond your skills and experience. And when it’s time to get the equipment you need for any type of terrain, contact us and we’ll make sure you have everything you need.