26 Jul 2016

Back-country 'dust on crust' avalanche warning

1:53 pm on 26 July 2016

Skiers, snowboarders and climbers are being warned about the higher risk of avalanches in back-country.

A small group of skiers had a narrow escape yesterday after being caught up in a big avalanche in the back-country of the Remarkables near Queenstown.

A period of warmer weather after a good snowfall early in the season has made things more dangerous, said Mountain Safety Council's chief executive, Mike Daisley.

The Mountain Safety Council has released this beginners' guide to coping with an avalanche:

The council described it as a "tricky situation".

"That formed essentially a big crust of ice up-and-down the country, so every bit of snow that's fallen since then has been sitting on this ice crust - which is commonly referred to as 'dust on crust'," said Mr Daisley.

"That's what we saw yesterday."

He said the risk would remain for the rest of the season, and everyone should be wary and regularly check the public advisory

A snow safety officer based at the Mt Hutt skifield, Ronan Maguire, said the increased danger should not discourage people from enjoying the snow.

"We really encourage people to get out and about and enjoy the hills," he said.

"The message is for people to speak to their local ski patrols and get the best information they can."

Ski area manager for the Remarkables Ross Lawrence said snow was a "moving target".

"The layers within the snow-pack keep on changing, it is fluid, but it is certainly more of an issue out-of-bounds where nothing is controlled," he said.

"We spend a lot time out testing the terrain, doing safety routes, avalanche control routes, we throw out explosives to manage the terrain so the hazard is kept to a minimum within the controlled ski areas."