Otago Polytechnic

Avalanche Safety Stage 1


Wanaka or Methven

6.5 days full-time

Block courses

Wanaka: 1 July (full) and 16 September, 2017; Methven: 19 August, 2017

This is the nationally-recognised training programme for professionals working in the field and the courses are modelled on the Canadian Avalanche Association professional training programme which are recognised at an international level.

Course curriculum has been developed over many years and is reviewed annually to ensure content remains current and to the highest possible standard. Avalanche Safety courses are offered at introductory and advanced levels and this course is a mix of both classroom and field work with observation techniques and application of observations being emphasised in field work.

Our instructors are specialists in avalanche safety with both local and national experience. Where possible, they are chosen on the basis of their experience specific to the course venue. In addition, learner/instructor ratios do not exceed 6:1 which allows for a considerable degree of personal attention.

Course supporters

We are grateful to the following organisations whom support and subsidise the courses:

- Remarkables Ski Area
- Department of Conservation
- Treble Cone Ski Area
- Cardrona Alpine Resort
- Temple Basin Ski Area
- Mountain Safety Council
- Ski Area Association of New Zealand.

2017 course dates
  • Wanaka: 1-7 July, 2017 (full - no spaces available); 16-22 September, 2017 
  • Methven: 19-25 August, 2017

Course duration is 6.5 days from Saturday to Friday midday inclusive. Please plan to attend the full course.

Entry requirements

In order to be eligible for the above course, participants are required to:

  • Complete the precourse study comprised of readings, video and on-line quizzes
  • Be competent intermediate skiers/snowboarders with basic ski touring experience (or enrolled in a non-skiing venue course) experienced in the mountain environment
  • Be familiar with recognised ski area safety code
  • Complete the Transceiver Competence Certificate.

For examples of the minimum required ski level, click on these movement analysis videos from the NZSIA website:

L3 Analysis 3 

L3 Analysis 5 

You should also have:

  • An excellent level of health and fitness
  • A mature approach and good decision-making skills
  • Good communication skills.
Selection procedure

All applicants who meet the entry criteria are eligible to enrol. All courses are based on minimum and maximum numbers and courses will be cancelled if there are insufficient participants.The final decision will be made one month prior to the start date of the course, so it is essential that you get your enrolment form in early.

Additional costs

If you are a season pass holder at Treble Cone and undertaking the course, you do not need to purchase a lift pass. However, you must have a season pass or purchase a package through the Polytechnic. You are also responsible for arranging and paying for your own accommodation at non-residential venues. Prices can vary greatly depending on the accommodation type but, as a guideline, you can expect to pay $150-$250 for a seven day stay in backpacker-style accommodation.

Equipment requirements

Daily field observations/field trips require participants to spend extended periods of time in the snow. Students are required to bring the following:

  1. Personal gear consisting of spare warm clothing, weather-proof outer garments for protection from wind, rain and snow, protective sun and eyewear, spare hats and gloves, warm footwear and “generous” daily nutrition and hydration needs.
  2. Ski gear (not relevant to non-skiing course). Participants must be prepared for full day back country field excursions which involve travelling uphill and downhill in variable conditions. Students therefore will need ski/snowboard equipment appropriate for ski-touring activities, including skins or snowshoes for boarders and BE FAMILIAR with their use. Poles are highly recommended for snowshoers, as are helmets for all.
  3. A backpack suitable for day excursions capable of carrying skis/snowboards/snowshoes.
  4. Each student must provide their own avalanche studies safety gear comprising a transceiver (457 kHz), portable snow shovel and collapsible probe.
  5. Course participants must supply their own observation equipment. This must include the following:
        • Hands-lens (8x-10x magnification)
        • Snow crystal screen/grid
        • One digital thermometer
        • Folder ruler (approximately two metres)
        • Snow saw (minimum 300mm)
        • Pocket calculator
        • Two pencils, rubber and pencil sharpener
        • Compass.
You will study

Course manuals and programmes will be sent out approximately one month prior to course commencement date. You are also expected to complete some pre-course study which consists of readings, videos and online quizzes.

During the programme, you will be required to demonstrate sound weather and snowpack observation techniques, knowledge of avalanche terrain and phenomena and effectively perform rescue skills within a specified timeframe.

This is an introductory professional avalanche safety course for people involved in the safety of alpine activities. At the successful completion of the course graduates will be able to:

  • Describe the nature and dangers of avalanches
  • Describe and demonstrate personal and group safety through trip planning, recognition of avalanche terrain, appropriate decision making, actions and use of equipment
  • Describe the properties of the mountain snowpack
  • Collect, record and communicate accurate weather, snowpack and avalanche occurrence data for use by a professional snow avalanche programme
  • Describe and demonstrate effective avalanche search and rescue
  • Demonstrate the use of factors and methods to evaluate and forecast snow stability and apply danger rating
  • Identify course scope, limitations and opportunities.

In order to successfully complete the course, participants will be required to demonstrate sound weather and snowpack observation techniques, knowledge of avalanche terrain and phenomena and effectively perform rescue skills within a specified timeframe.

Programme specific risks

You must be aware that the practice and teaching of snowsports can be physically and mentally demanding and require a good level of health and fitness. Risks specific to the study of Avalanche Safety will be outlined during the programme.

Your workload

The course duration is 6.5 days and runs from 8.00am on the Saturday until approximately midday the following Friday (inclusive).  Because the programme is subject to the weather, please make sure your travel arrangements do not require you to leave your venue before 3.00pm on the final day.

Further study options

If you are seeking to gain a wider range of skills and have set your sights on becoming a snowsports instructor, undertake our eighteen week, full-time Certificate in Snowsport Instructing (Ski or Snowboard) qualification based at Cardrona Alpine Resort (near Wanaka).

Links to useful websites

While every effort is made to ensure that this sheet is accurate, Otago Polytechnic reserves the right to amend, alter or withdraw any of the contained information. The fees shown in this document are indicative ONLY. Both domestic and international fees are subject to change and are dependent on the development and implementation of Government policies. Please note that additional fees may from time to time be required for external examination, NZQA fees and/or additional material fees.

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