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Mountain safety in summer

by Robyn Gordon

Time to go bush

It’s time to escape the city confines for the space, the wind on your face and time-out with nature. It’s time to ‘go-bush’ and amble at leisure with friends at altitude or a time to test your fitness with a good climb. For some it is a chance to explore a new area with family, - whatever you choose mountain safety knowledge is important.

We all know our weather changes quickly and the temperature can fluctuate drastically, so your backpack should contain clothes and food to sustain you if you need to spend a night out in the mountains or bush. None of us ever plan to have an accident or get lost, but if you did, could you cope? Hyperthermia is a silent enemy, it sneaks up on the unwary.

Our mountains are an amazing playground but they need our respect. Knowledge and equipment before you venture forth, constant awareness of the weather and environment while you are there and when safely home again, you have memories and renewed vigour to see you through to the next outing.

Go prepared

Basic items like a warm hat, a large you-sized plastic bag (wind and rain protector), a thermal blanket and a first aid kit do not weigh very much or take up much room. Compasses, ‘E-perbs’, mountain radios and cellphones are also worthwhile extras – check the batteries before you go and make sure you know how to use it. Go prepared, its you and your friends, so make sure that you have covered your bases.

Summer snow

For those going higher and experiencing the remaining snow – make sure you read the latest reports on . The spring /summer snow is wet and loose. Statistics tell us that December and January have the greatest number of avalanches and this years loss of two experienced guides New Years Eve adds weight to the fact that you need to be aware of this danger. NZ has avalanches all year round, where-ever there is snow and the weather is changing.

We have the greatest amount of accessible mountains for our people to use and we hold the world record for deaths in avalanches. A sad but true fact. Lets try and change this record by taking more care.

Mountain Safety Council has a twice yearly magazine ‘The Crystal Ball’ and this is well worth reading online.  links and avalanche resources will find it for you. Here is the latest information from both here and overseas.

Robyn Gordon
Robyn Gordon



About avalanches

by Robyn Gordon

Why Worry About Avalanches?

Snow avalanches are a natural process, occurring perhaps 1,000,000 times per year, world-wide. They are one way for snow on an incline to adjust to the pull of gravity. The vast majority of these slides are not a problem, because an avalanche, in and of itself, is not a hazard. A person (or a person's belongings) has to get involved in order for there to be a problem.

So, who gets caught in avalanches?


What happens if you get caught in an avalanche?


The fact is, that avalanches don't drop from the peaks onto the heads of unsuspecting innocents with the unpredictability of a plummeting meteorite. 95% of people who are caught in avalanches are caught by a slide that was triggered by themself or a member of their party.

I think this is good news! Our behaviour creates the hazard, so we can change our behaviour to avoid problems.

Avalanche Characteristics

There are many different types of avalanches, but the one that worries us the most is the "slab" avalanche, in which a mass of cohesive snow releases as a unit. This type is easily recognized by its distinct crown and flanks (click for a diagram of the nomenclature associated with avalanches).

Slab and other avalanches can be hard or soft, wet or dry and can be triggered naturally or artificially.

Spotting Avalanche Hazard: The Avalanche Triangle

Some places have avalanches: Switzerland's Alps, Utah's La Sals, Nepal's Himalayas, New Zealand’s Mountains. Some places don't: South Viet Nam, the Mile-High Stadium, your living room (the distinctions are not always so obvious, unfortunately).

Why is this? Avalanches are formed by a combination of three things that together are known as the "Avalanche Triangle". These 3 ingredients may be present in one location but absent 10 feet away. The three legs of the triangle are Snowpack, Terrain and Weather.

Detecting Instability

There are many tip-offs to the presence of a potential avalanche, including surface clues and active stability tests. You should never trust a single information source--stability evaluation is an ongoing process!

The information from this page originates from

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New Zealand Avalanche resources

by Robyn Gordon

Mountain Saftey Council (MSC) New Zealand

The Mountain Safety Council is an important advocate of outdoor safety in new Zealand. They have an excellent brochure on avalanches, how to recoginise danger and how to prevent them. Their website has further resources available that you might want to explore. It also contains saftey tips for in summer time.

MSC also runs a website with backcountry avalanche advisory which is provided as a public service. It is intended as an advisory only.

Avalanche forecasting is an undertaking which requires extensive study and field observations. Those endeavouring to travel in the Southern Alps and the mountains of the North Island, do so at their own risk. We recommend winter travellers be well informed about current weather, snowpack and avalanche hazards.

Winter travellers should not travel alone. All members of your party should wear a transceiver (457khz) and know how to use it. In addition everyone should carry a shovel, and a probe. Winter travellers should advise someone where they are travelling, and when they will make next contact.

Department of Conservation (DOC)

The Department of Conservation can assist with safety advise. Check their website for more details.

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Risk Management

by Robyn Gordon

Before teachers take classes on snow trips they should have all students fill out a risk assessment forms. This is called risk management.

The forms help to identify all of the possible risks that may occur during the trip. The next step is then to work through scenarios how the grooup will respond in case one of the scenarios happens. Each of the scenario's should be worked through to make sure they have the right equipment, first aid, support systems, and procedures in place before they go.

They are then prepared for every possibility.

The Avalanche Lady covers risk management in her speech and can help school groups with providing the risk assessment forms.

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