Avalanche near-misses prompt warning to backcountry skiers
Backcountry travellers have triggered multiple large avalanches this week prompting the Avalanche Advisory to remind them not to underestimate the snow conditions.
Avalanches large enough to kill, injure and bury people have been triggered in the Southern Lakes area including a 250-metre-wide avalanche that carried a skier behind the Remarkables Ski Area on Wednesday.
The skier lost their gear but was not injured.
Control work at local ski areas has also produced multiple small to large avalanches.
The advisory said a persistent weak layer has developed in the snowpack which meant avalanches were possible even at lower danger levels.
Queenstown avalanche forecasters Chris Cochrane and Will Rowntree described the current snowpack conditions as a little spooky and highly variable.
"We are seeing backcountry users triggering avalanches on a daily basis - this is certainly not normal," Cochrane said.
"The snowpack is getting weaker, not stronger, so we ask users for a conservative approach when planning a trip into the backcountry."
The current warning was also a good reminder for ice climbers and mountaineers as triggering even a small pocket of wind slab avalanche could result in a fall in difficult terrain, he said.
NZ Mountain Safety Council Chief Executive Mike Daisley said there had been a lot of human-triggered avalanches around the Southern Lakes in the last week alone, especially outside the boundaries of the Remarkables Ski Area.
"While it's natural that everyone's buzzing for a winter adventure, there's a growing concern that luck could run out," Daisley said.
"If you're thinking of heading out of the ski area boundary, it's essential you are prepared for the backcountry. That means making sure you have checked the avalanche advisory and understand it.
"Ensure you have avalanche rescue equipment and you know how to use it. Go with a buddy, and the right mindset. Be mentally prepared to assess the conditions and be prepared to turn back."
Information could be scarce in the early winter so it was useful if people submitted their observations to the Avalanche Advisory website, he said.
"Ski areas and heli-ski operators have only recently started up for the season and with a slow start to the snow arriving we're still in quite a low data period, this means our avalanche forecasters are building a picture of the snowpack with limited data, the public can really help us to help them by sharing observations."
The Avalanche Advisory updates the forecasts online each day or when new information becomes available.