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Trip Reports 2014-07-25-Wanaka Backcountry Avalanche Course

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 86, no 8, September 2013

Mountain Safety Council Back Country Avalanche Course

25 July 2014

In late July, Paul Maxim and Dave Grainger went to Wanaka to attend the Mountain Safety Council's Backcountry Avalanche course.

This four day course is designed for individuals who spend time travelling in an alpine environment outside of ski area boundaries, and focuses on applying the skills of personal preparation, route decision making and rescue skills. TTC paid the costs for Paul and Dave to do this course as part of an ongoing initiative to train the club's active instructors and alpine trip leaders.

It was the first time back on skis 2014 for Paul and Dave: the first few turns on ungroomed new snow were a bit shaky!

The course instructors were Al Moore (heliski/mountain/rafting guide and well-known in the ski patrol fraternity) and Gordie Smith (who coordinates the MSC's excellent backcountry avalanche advisory service for NZ).

The course featured travel on touring skis and practical exercises outside the boundaries of Cardrona and Treble Cone skifields. We learnt how to assess snowpack stability, how to relate this to weather forecasts and conditions, and helpful tips for route selection and group management.

During the course, weather patterns switched from cold southerly flow to a warm norwester regime, so we could observe the consequent changes in snowpack stability and avalanche hazard, benefitting from Al's insights into planning and decision-making during such changes.

All of the course students were somewhat fascinated by the behaviour of the snowpack such as finding facets forming at the base of shallow snow and seeing the 'thousand glinting diamonds' of surface hoar. The instructors did well to avoid getting drawn into the science with our questions, why this? and what about that?!

Al assessed our transceiver search technique by having each of us search a 500 square metre area to locate a simulated burial in under 2 minutes. Then Al found a recent slab avalanche track by the Cardrona access road to set up a multiple victim burial simulation for us. The scenario proved a great learning exercise for the group with tests of team leadership, group management and search technique. With six of us probing and shovelling in a debris field, it was noted that not a single passing skifield customer stopped to ask if we should need any assistance...!

Thanks to TTC for making available such a great training opportunity.

Party members
Dave Grainger (scribe), Paul Maxim.

Page last modified on 2014 Sep 16 00:30

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