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May 2019 Issue
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Ski tour guidelines to preserve backcountry access

New guidelines aim to reduce tension between backcountry skiers and ski field management. Photo: Dan Clearwater

Guidelines for backcountry ski touring have been developed as a way to change behaviour on the slopes.

The Backcountry Touring Access Guidelines, established by the Federated Mountain Clubs and NZ Alpine Club, are an attempt to create a safer and more respectful environment and preserve ski field access to the backcountry.

The guidelines advocate increased communication with ski patrols, taking safety precautions and respecting the environment and those within it.

An FMC investigation into ski touring last year found backcountry skiers were causing problems in areas where they could use ski field infrastructure to access the backcountry.

Cited behaviour included skiers ignoring signage, accessing dangerous terrain and butting heads with other skiers and mountain staff.

FMC development officer Dan Clearwater, who worked on the guidelines, said a lack of common sense by a few was causing problems.

“Just because you can access something quickly, it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” he said.

Clearwater said ski fields in the USA had already taken a hard line on backcountry access.

“About half have now said no backcountry riding permitted, and we don’t want to go down that road – there’s too little snow in New Zealand as it is, and we need to look after what we’ve got.”

Of New Zealand’s 25 ski fields, 19 have so far supported the guidelines.

Mt Ruapehu general manager of people and performance Andy Hoyle said tensions around terrain closure have caused issues in the past and there is a misunderstanding from skiers who believe they can go wherever they like because the ski field is in a national park. “But we have obligations that don’t necessarily line up with that,” said Hoyle. This includes ensuring skiers do not venture into avalanche terrain or the path of machinery.

The guidelines can be viewed at