Backcountry Avalanche Course Details | Winter 2019


The 4-day Backcountry Avalanche Course focuses on the assessment of avalanche hazard and safe travel in backcountry terrain. We will take you step-by-step through the avalanche hazard evaluation process.

You will learn how our IFMGA/NZMGA mountain and ski guides evaluate the terrain, weather, and snowpack - making your personal adventures safer.

In 2014 we moved the Backcountry Course to the Mount Cook / Mackenzie region. Apart from our cozy guiding base, this area offers NZ’s premier heliski terrain, and easy access to the fantastic and reliable slack-country of 3 ski areas, a short drive from our base.

Using local ski areas and Mount Cook Heliski's big mountain terrain we will:

  • Introduce you to some of the latest equipment for safe backcountry touring

  • Help to hone those mandatory rescue skills

  • Show you the techniques we use to evaluate snow stability for safe backcountry travel.

Weather permitting, by linking in with our heliskiing operation you will enjoy a heliski run and access into Mt Cook Heliski’s premium terrain at Mount Cook. If weather allows we may include a tour, staying overnight in the mountains.

The course will immerse you in an intensive backcountry experience under the tutelage of some of New Zealand’s leading mountain and heliski guides.

What You Will Learn

At the end of the course you will have an understanding of snow safety and avalanche hazard. You will also receive certification ratified and accepted by the NZ Mountain Safety Council. This can be used as a prerequisite for possible future professional snow-industry training courses.

The topics covered on your course include:

  • Snowpack interpretation; layers, stability tests, variation over time and area

  • Search & Rescue; avalanche dynamics, survival strategies, transceivers, probing, recovery, case studies

  • Terrain interpretation; route finding to avoid avalanche hazard

  • Weather systems; mountain weather interpretation, observations

  • Equipment: what to take, the latest gear and its application

  • Touring technique (skinning & cramponing)

  • Trip planning and preparation

Experience Required

Some backcountry skiing/riding experience is preferred, but not essential.

You must be be:

  • Strong intermediate (or better) skier/snowboarder

  • Prepared to ski/ride in alpine terrain with a small backpack

A working knowledge of weather systems and avalanche beacons is also useful, but not necessary. Our low instructor/participant ratio allows us to accommodate a range of experience levels.

We encourage snowboarders to use splitboard gear, whenever possible, for faster transitions and easier uphill travel.

Recommended Technical References

While not required, it is helpful if you have some theoretical backcountry travel and avalanche knowledge. See our referenced winter-specific texts.

Price and Inclusions | Winter 2019

Backcountry Courses are available as:

  1. Scheduled 4-day courses - ideal for individuals

  2. Or as privately arranged courses for small groups

Course fees includes:
  • 4 days tuition

  • Local transport to ski areas and helipad

  • Hut fees /local accommodation

  • Helicopter transport in and out (for any heliski access)

  • All meals from lunch on day one

  • Free use of a range technical equipment

  • NZ Mountain Safety Council Certification

  • Alpine Guides Technical Manual

  • Avalanche Awareness in the New Zealand Backcountry book

1. Scheduled Courses

Price: NZ$2,150 per person

All scheduled courses are limited to a maximum of 4 participants and are ideal for individuals to join.

Minimum bookings on scheduled courses

In the unusual situation with only one person booked, rather than cancel a trip we can run the same program for NZ$3,775. The course content is unaffected.

Alternatively you have the option  to cancel for a full refund, or transfer to another date without penalty.

We will keep you informed if other bookings have not been made inside a month of departure

2. Private Backcountry Courses

Private courses are perfect for small groups of friends. We can arrange private courses throughout winter, for one or more people. The start date can be arranged to suit your schedule, subject to guide availability. Please contact us to discuss your start dates.

Guide availability is limited in August, so please book well ahead, if possible.

Terrain check- Ben Ohau Range - Mount Cook Region.

Reporting details

All courses begin at 08:30 at Alpine Guides base in Mount Cook Village on the start date, and finish at 17:00 on the last day.

Check transport options to Mount Cook Village here.

What you need to provide

Course Organisation/Schedule

The day-to-day program will vary according to snow conditions and prevailing weather. By maintaining a flexible approach, the guides will make the best use of each day - working around the weather and snow conditions to provide the best teaching environment. 

We reserve the right to modify each course to suit weather, conditions, and group dynamics.

This means the format for each course will be unique, in terms of the number of nights based in the mountains, and at other training venues. For example an overnight tour including tent camping/snow caving may be included.

Day 1: Meet in Mt Cook at Alpine Guide office at 08:30. You will review the course outline, and discuss the current snow conditions and likely weather.

After an equipment sort, we run an introductory workshop and lectures on snow stability basics and transceivers. We travel to Ohau Ski Area and stay at Ohau Lodge with an evening lecture.

Day 2: Field day in Ohau Ski Area area backcountry for terrain and snowpack analysis, introduction to stability tests.

Day 3: Extended Fieldwork with a tour deep into the backcountry of the ski area. Theory includes avalanche rescue techniques, introduction to terrain analysis. Return to Mt Cook Village that evening.

Day 4: Morning lecture with an introduction to heliski operations and run safety management, followed by a helicopter lift into the Ben Ohau Range, for touring and “heliski” run to conclude the course before debriefing.

MSC Certification & the Backcountry Course

The Backcountry Course includes the syllabus for the NZ Mountain Safety Council Recreational Avalanche Course. On completion we will provide you with a basic MSC certificate of completion.

Whilst our course is aimed at the recreational back country traveler, it can be used as a prerequisite for possible future professional snow-industry training courses.

This certification can be gained elsewhere - but Alpine Guides' Backcountry Course has serious advantages:
  • The only course with access to big mountain heliski terrain terrain

  • Our staff are professional mountain and ski guides, current in mountain knowledge, with year-round international experience

  • The course venue includes mountain terrain, offering a diverse snow pack, allowing for greater learning opportunities

  • We provide a relaxed learning environment without the pressures of formal assessment

  • Weather backup day

Ski Touring and Snowboard Gear Hire

You should hire your ski touring or backcountry snowboard rig prior to arrival. We have a handful of sets of aging gear - for emergency hire only!

Recommended Gear Hire Stores

Equipment and Clothing

Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.

Choosing your clothing | Seasonal Variation

Our gear lists cater for all eventualities. Sometimes you may not require everything on the equipment list. Weather and conditions when your trip starts will help determine what is needed.

Always pack for cold conditions on the Backcountry course. A 4-season sleeping bag, down jacket, and heavy grade thermal layers are required.

Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The program is designed to work around these changes. Read more about seasonal variations.

Make a Booking

Book online here using a credit card or by bank deposit 

  • For private courses, please ensure you have talked to us about guide availability.

  • We require a deposit of NZ$1,000 and completed booking form for each person.