People are being urged to stay away from the mountains across the country over the next few days due to high avalanche danger ratings making them an “unsafe place”.
The NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) said avalanche danger levels have reached a winter-season high after the last storm system delivered significant amounts of new snow, leaving the mountains a dangerous place.
It is not common that eight out of 12 avalanche forecasting regions are classified as “high” avalanche danger and the remaining four as “considerable”, the MSC said.
The “high” ratings regions are the Arthur’s Pass, Craigieburn Range, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Ōhau, Queenstown, Wanaka, Fiordland and Nelson Lakes. Those on ‘considerable’ are Tongariro, Taranaki, Mt Hutt and Two Thumbs.
“High” danger level indicates very dangerous avalanche conditions where travel is not recommended as natural and human-triggered avalanches are likely, according to the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA).
People playing at Treblecone ski field where heavy snow has fallen. Photo / George Heard
MSC chief executive Mike Daisley said the recent weather system means the backcountry is not a safe place right now.
“Significant overnight snowfalls accompanied by strong winds means many ski areas are closed or partially closed today to conduct avalanche control work. This control work doesn’t occur in the backcountry, so it needs even more time to settle and stabilise.”
It comes as another round of snowfall hits the South Island today.
The Crown Range remains closed and an update is expected at midday. SH73 Springfield to Arthurs Pass is closed to towing vehicles and chains are essential.
SH94 Te Anau to Milford Rd is closed from Hollyford Rd Junction to Chasm, with heavy rain and snow increasing the avalanche hazard.
Arthurs Pass is one of seven mountain areas across New Zealand where the avalanche risk is now at the highest level. Photo / NZH
Trucker Steve Gray is stuck in Arthurs Pass. He said the snow is starting to mount around him.
“In front of me, the hills are looking fairly white and it’s still coming down so it could be a while yet.”
He said he is preparing to hunker down until he can get through.
MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said in the past few days New Zealand has had a classic winter snow-bringer for the mountainous areas.
“A good feed of moisture from the northwest with freezing levels low enough to get big accumulations around the alps,” Ferris said.
Daisley said the NZAA forecasters need time to reassess the hazards, and while they do this MSC strongly advises staying out of the backcountry – which includes mountaineering, backcountry skiing and alpine tramping.
“It’s vital that people check the latest avalanche advisory before venturing out and follow the guidance provided.”
The NZAA forecasters will update the 12 regional forecasts at avalanche.net.nz as new information becomes available.