Introduction

Be prepared for avalanches in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Date:  02 August 2017

Winter snows bring the risk of avalanches to Nelson Lakes. Our office is very thankful to Matt Wilkinson, an avalanche expert in the Mountain Safety Council. Matt is generous with his expertise and helps us monitor our avalanche risk across the park, especially as it affects the known avalanche paths on the Travers-Sabine Circuit.

There is genuine science in avalanche forecasting considering the complex and combined effects of snow depth, slope steepness and aspect, altitude, pattern of weather events – much more than can be easily explained here. Aside from tracking the weather patterns, data is also drawn from a snow monitoring station deep in the park, from field testing snow packs by the ski patrol on Rainbow Ski Field, backed up with an occasional aerial field trip to ensure the remote modelling is giving the right picture.

The Mountain Safety Council maintains the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory service across a number of sites nationally. Check the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory for Nelson Lakes before heading out into the alpine backcountry in winter and spring.

The Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) is useful to begin to measure your skills, experience and risk tolerance against the terrain you plan to travel in. It rates the risks as Simple, Challenging or Complex. Know the avalanche terrain ratings (ATES) for tracks and routes in the Nelson Lakes

Avalanche sign on the Travers-Sabine Circuit.
Avalanche sign on the Travers-Sabine Circuit

Those on the Travers Sabine Circuit will see signs warning when they are crossing an avalanche path. Invariably these are open areas created by previous avalanches and are where the next avalanches are most likely to occur. As tempting as it may be to have lunch in the sun, these areas should be avoided.

Of most concern is John Tait Hut and Hopeless Hut, both of which were built (before this was understood) in avalanche paths. We have markers, both natural and placed, on the snow slopes high above the huts to measure the snow depth. These are checked in field trips. If the depth is such that there is some risk to the huts, the Operations Manager may close one or both the huts until the risk subsides.

Hut closures along with other key visitor safety messages are posted as ‘Alerts’ on the Travers-Sabine Circuit page. Check for 'alerts' on the Travers-Sabine Circuit before you head out and be sure you are suitably experienced and equipped for the conditions. 

Remember, your safety is your responsibility

Avalanche debris at John Tait Hut (2008).
Avalanche debris at John Tait Hut (2008)

Known avalanche paths around the Travers-Sabine Circuit.
Known avalanche paths around the Travers-Sabine Circuit

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