A Guide to Backcountry Skiing in New Zealand

Breathtaking and wild, the Wanaka backcountry offers spectacular skiing for those that are prepared to hike and earn their turns.

The mountains can be dangerous and unpredictable, so it’s essential to be prepared with the right equipment, experience and training. The information and resources below will help you stay safe and find the best places to head backcountry this winter.

Wanaka Backcountry Access

Wanaka’s ski areas all provide access for backcountry touring during the winter season, access is a privilege and each ski area has its own rules. Be aware that the ski areas do not conduct avalanche control or provide ski patrol outside of the ski area boundaries so you’re entirely responsible for your own safety.

Treble Cone (TC) offers a special backcountry lift pass which provides 3 x chairlift rides. All backcountry skiers must report to Ski Patrol at the top of the Saddle chairlift. Learn more

Cardrona Alpine Resort report to Ski Patrol for the latest conditions and let them know if you will be leaving a vehicle in the car park after 5pm. Learn more

Soho Basin public access is permitted, a donation of $10 per person per day goes to the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust (LDART). You can pay via the details on the Trust’s PDF or the honesty box located at the end of the first fence as you leave the Cardrona car park.

And you must complete a registration and assumption of risk and liability form. Learn more

Snow Farm access to the Pisa Range Conservation Area is subject to a road toll and a fee applies if you plan to use any of the Snow Farm trails. Learn more

 

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Safety

Before leaving a ski area boundary please ensure you understand the risks involved in backcountry travel, carry the appropriate equipment, check local weather forecasts and avalanche conditions, always travel in a group, and never alone. It's also essential to tell someone your intentions – where you’re going, and when you’ll be back.

One of the most dangerous aspects of backcountry ski-touring is the risk of avalanches. Always check the NZ Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) before you depart and remember that a ‘low’ danger forecast does not mean NO danger. If you’re accessing the backcountry from a commercial ski area, then talk to Ski Patrol to understand the latest conditions and risks.

Attending an avalanche awareness course is highly recommended to help plan your backcountry touring expeditions and to learn what to do in the case of an avalanche. In Wanaka, Adventure Consultants and Aspiring Guides run avalanche awareness and ski touring courses, and a list of other course providers can be found here

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Equipment

Transceiver: Avalanche transceivers transmit a signal which can be used to locate a buried skier in the event of an avalanche. Transceivers should be worn and understood by every person entering the backcountry. Check and replace the batteries regularly.

Probe: When a transceiver is set to receive a signal, it will guide a search party closer to a buried victim, but a probe is what will find the person. Systematic probing allows you to exactly pinpoint the location of the buried person.

Shovel: Once you’ve located a buried skier, you’ll need to dig them out and shoveling is an extremely important aspect of avalanche rescue. An efficient and strategic shoveling technique can save you minutes, which is critical for the buried person. It is extremely important that you select a good shovel and practice as often as possible. 

It's also best practice to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) for use in emergencies as well as a map and compass.

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Guiding Services

Adventure Consultants offer ski-touring courses and guiding based from their unique alpine Geo Dome Camp. New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) Avalanche Awareness training is also available.

Aspiring Guides provide a variety of backcountry ski-touring services including guided day trips or multi-days adventures, as well as MSC avalanche awareness courses.

Heli Skiing is the ultimate backcountry skiing experience, with helicopter access to spectacular terrain with the support of qualified guides.

 

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Useful Websites & Resources

New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC)

Safety information and resources to help you #MakeItHomeNZ

 Weather

Metservice | Metvuw | Windy

General 

Ski Touring New Zealand is a useful reference guide to backcountry ski touring in New Zealand. Information available includes recommended ski-touring locations, routes, safety information and gear reviews.

New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA)

Wanaka Avalanche Advisory

NZAA Trip Planning & Equipment Guide

Online beginners guide to avalanche forecasts, danger scales, danger types and some of the mitigation's available. Attending a hands-on course is highly recommended to get practical experience.

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