Otago Polytechnic

Diploma in Avalanche Studies (incorporating the NZMSC Avalanche Safety Stage 2 Certificate)


Online with block courses

One year full-time; up to four years part-time

The two block courses are based in Wanaka and will be held on avalanche terrain in Central Otago.

Field Training
23-27 July 2018
Integrated Practical Assessment:
2-10 September 2018


  • Location
    Study breaks
  • Central Otago
    1 January 2018
This programme name will change to the New Zealand Certificate in Avalanche Risk Management (Level 6)* from 2019. 
If you love being in the mountains during the winter and have a strong sense of responsibility, have you considered a career in Avalanche Safety?

As the Snowsport tourism industry grows and the emphasis on safe participation increases, there is a steady demand for qualified snow safety personnel around the world. Your expertise could lead to exciting employment opportunities in tourism ventures, numerous ski-field roles, guiding or roading operations. With your mature approach and ability to motivate people, you could consider instructing in these areas or becoming a Snow Safety Manager.

This Diploma incorporates the NZMSC Avalanche Safety Stage 2 Certificate which is a prerequisite for most industry management roles. Otago Polytechnic is the only tertiary institution within New Zealand who deliver this Certificate and we are recognised by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) for doing so.

During this qualification, you will learn how to apply advanced snow science knowledge to ensure the safety of people and assets in alpine areas, especially avalanche-prone areas. You will also develop the skills to plan and manage avalanche safety programmes. 

*subject to final approval

Fee information

The tuition fees shown in the right-hand column are part of the Government’s Key Information for Students (KIS). This data is pulled from a database that the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) control. It is based on an average fee from the previous year.

This means there is always a difference between the TEC/KIS fee shown and Otago Polytechnic’s current indicative fee (other reasons also affect the KIS data such as fee reductions for students granted Recognition of Prior Learning). Due to this, the indicative fee below is the best guide for prospective students.

Information about compulsory student services levy >

Please note: The KIS data only applies to domestic students. Up-to-date international student fees can be found by clicking the International tab in the top right corner of this page.  

Entry requirements

The Otago Polytechnic Avalanche Safety Stage 2 Certificate is an advanced programme for people who work full-time within an avalanche risk management programme.

Participants are expected to have at least 80 days of operational field experience making and collecting weather, snowpack, and avalanche activity observations before applying. This generally requires at least two years of active operational field work and experience under the mentorship of Stage 2 graduates. Participants can expect to have logged at least another 20 days (of operational field experience making and collecting weather, snowpack, and avalanche activity observations) prior to attempting their final assessment.

  • NZMSC Avalanche Safety - Stage 1 (you must supply evidence of having completed this course if you didn't complete it at Otago Polytechnic).
  • You must submit a health and safety declaration.
  • You must have access to the internet. 
  • An excellent level of health and fitness
  • Excellent communication and people skills
  • Good decision-making skills
  • International students will be individually assessed to ensure they meet diploma-level entry requirements.

International students for whom English is not a first language, who come from countries with a visa decline rate of more than 20%

Domestic students for whom English is not a first language and international students from countries with a visa decline rate of less than 20%

View visa decline rates by country here.

If you need to improve your English, we offer a range of English language programmes.  

Additional documentation

You must supply certified copies of proof of residency (where appropriate).

Selection procedure

All applicants who meet the entry criteria are eligible for selection. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of places, students will be placed on a waiting list in the order that they applied.  

Additional costs

During the two block courses, you are responsible for finding your own accommodation. The two block courses are between five to eight days long.

Online learning requirements

You will require access to online computing facilities to undertake the distance learning packages.

Further study options

There are no further study options within New Zealand after this qualification as it is the highest award currently offered.

Programme specific risks

You are advised of the programme specific risks posed during the block courses. These include injury or death from avalanche, environmental exposure or ski touring/motor vehicle accident.  

Your workload

The level of workload varies depending on the number of courses that you undertake. As a guideline, the average student spends approximately 120 hours on the three theory courses in total. The two block courses are between five to eight days long and may include full ten hour days. Approximately 100 field days of applying Stage 1 skills is needed to meet the expected level required to complete the Applied Snow Studies (practical) logbook.    

Qualification structure

The full Diploma in Avalanche Studies is worth 125 credits and is equivalent to one year's full-time study. The first part of this qualification consists of the Avalanche Safety Stage 2 Certificate

Avalanche Safety Stage 2

On successful completion of the following compulsory courses (70 credits), you will be awarded the NZMSC Avalanche Safety Stage 2 Certificate. You must successfully complete the first four courses below prior to enrolling in the Field Training Course.

The Field Training course is a practical block course based out of our Wanaka classroom and carried out over five days in Central Otago avalanche terrain. After completion of the Field Training course, you are eligible to enrol in the Integrated Practical Assessment. This eight day block programme is also based in Wanaka and the Central Otago mountains. 

Compulsory courses


Applied Snow Studies


Terrain and Snowpack Analysis Theory


Rescue / Mitigation Measures Theory


Decision Making / Personal and Professional Development Theory


Field Training


Integrated Practical Assessment




Diploma in Avalanche Studies

The following additional courses are required to then be awarded the Diploma in Avalanche Studies and may be enrolled in at any time:



Advanced Forecasting


Data Management


Management Skills


ELECTIVES (choose one of the following)




Ski Area Operations


Roading Operations


Research / Special Topic




Student loans/allowances

Student loans and allowances are for domestic students only. For information about student loans and allowances please visit the Studylink website. It is important to apply for your student loan/allowance at the same time as you apply for this programme, due to the length of time Studylink take to process. Loan/allowance applications can be cancelled at any time if you decide to withdraw your programme application or if it is unsuccessful. 

Recognition of prior learning

If you have extensive knowledge and skills due to practical experience in this area, enquire about our recognition of prior learning process at Capable NZ. You may have already gained credits towards this qualification.

How the programme has been applied

"Peter (Avalanche Programme Manager) and Otago Polytechnic have created an environment where a student is able to seek and learn from mentored feedback from multiple experts within the industry, thus allowing the student to fully understand all facets of the process they are learning and gain a wider perspective of the Avalanche phoneme.

This system is combined with a dedicated Theory Support Advisor whose role is to provide the student with consistent feedback at the base and concept level. These processes have created a powerful learning tool where the student is allowed to flourish and gain the confidence to reach the benchmark expected by the Avalanche Industry.

Due to the learning processes that have been set in motion, industry has fully accepted this programme. It has been the major driver in lifting standards, creating a positive learning environment throughout the industry and ultimately having a positive impact on accepted industry practices."

Chris Emmett, Safety Services Manager - Turoa Ski Area
Chris is a graduate of the Diploma in Avalanche Studies, the Convener of the NZ Snow and Avalanche Committee for the Mountain Safety Council and an employer of many graduates from this programme.

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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