Mountain Safety- Things to Know Before You Go Up The Ski Fields

Date: 27th July 2018

Being up the ski field is a whole lot of fun, but as with all adventure activities in Queenstown there is always an element of risk. Regardless of whether you are a total beginner or a seasoned pro, there are guidelines and rules all mountain users should keep in mind to reduce risks for all. There are many people at the ski resort, from trail staff to ski patrol who work very hard to keep you safe and having fun on the slopes, and if you are are unsure or are in trouble you should always reach out for help.

The Snow Responsibility Code: 

The Snow Safety Code is a set of guidelines set out for all mountain users to follow. For a safe and successful day on the snow, it is important to familiarize yourself with these guidelines before you head out.

NZ Ski’s Snow Code: 

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

  • Ride to your ability, control your speed.

Be aware of your ability and the terrain you can handle, be able to control your speed,  avoid others, and know how to stop.

  • Be aware of the conditions.

The snow conditions and weather can change rapidly. Be aware of the snow and visibility and ride with extra care if necessary.

  • Take a lesson.

If you are a beginner, or if it has been a while, be certain to take a lesson to refresh your skills, learn good habits and gain confidence.

FIND YOUR SPACE

  • Stop where you can be seen

If you need to stop, move to the side of the run and be certain you are visible from above. Never stop at the bottom of a jump, or in the middle of a run, and if you fall, clear the way as soon as you are able. Be respectful to those around you and make yourself easily avoidable.

  • Give others room

Do not block the way for others, and be courteous when loading, riding and unloading the lifts.

  • Look ahead

Always be aware of your surroundings, and know when others are close by. The downhill skier or rider has the right of way, always check first when changing direction, or when trails merge.

PROTECT YOURSELF

  • Obey all signs and closures

Ski patrol spends their day ensuring the mountain is safe for your use, and place all signage for a reason. If a run is closed, don’t go down it. Avoid all marked (and unmarked hazards). Be aware of the ski area boundary and do not exit unprepared.

  • Tired, take a rest

Skiing and snowboarding are physical activities and can be especially taxing if you are learning. Take a rest if you are tired and ensure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

  • Wear a helmet

It’s very simple, wear a helmet- your head is important and there is no point risking your vacation, your season and your future health.

Ski Patrol

The mountain Ski Patrol Staff work hard each day to ensure the terrain within the resort boundary is safe for all that use it. They are always observing weather conditions and the condition and stability of snow. In some instances you may see them performing avalanche control measures. Ski Patrol are also the first point of call for any accidents or incidents that occur within the ski field boundary.

In the Case of an Accident or Injury:

If you are involved in, or witness an accident you must stay on the scene until Ski Patrol Arrive. First, protect the area and the injured person by crossing your skis or snowboard(s) above the accident (stick them in the snow standing up). Contact Ski Patrol as quickly as you are able. This can be done several ways: If there is a strong skier or rider available, send them. Ski Patrol can be reached by phone (it is a good idea to find the number of the resort you will be attending and save it to your phone in advance), or by radio at any lift, or through resort staff member. Stay at the scene until Patrol arrive to provide extra help if required, and to pass along all information and details.

Be respectful to Ski Patrol, identify yourself and stay on the scene until they have gained all necessary information.

Equipment Checks

Check all of your equipment regularly and ensure that it is all in safe working order before heading up the mountain. Check all buckles, straps, poles, board, boots, and skis- especially the brakes, looking for anything that could cause harm to yourself or others if faulty. It is also important to check your helmet for cracks or dents, and that it should be replaced after any significant impact or every 2-4 years. 

Safe Driving

New Zealand ski resorts are accessed by road, and if you choose to self drive it is important to be prepared for any challenges you may face. These are not regular roads and you may find yourself on steep, narrow, and unsealed surfaces with mud, ice, and grit. Chains must be carried at all times, and must be fitted when indicated. It is important that you know how to properly fit chains to your vehicle. If fitting chains is new to you, be sure to practice before setting off. Always remember a spare pair of gloves, as your chains will be wet and cold.

Always be aware of the conditions and other road users and adjust your driving accordingly.

Venturing into the Backcountry

If you plan to leave the ski area boundary, you must be prepared. You will need a great deal of experience, knowledge of the area and to understand the risks. Avalanches are a  real risk, and you will need all the necessary equipment such as a shovel, probe, and beacon.

Remember, Ski Patrol does not regularly patrol outside the ski area boundary, and will only enter the backcountry in the case of a reported emergency.

It is good practice to notify Ski Patrol if you intend to be in the backcountry.

Other Things to Remember:

-Take care of yourself: The sun is a real risk on the slopes, be certain to apply sunscreen and pack extra to apply through the day. Higher altitudes increase dehydration, always bring water and remember to break when needed and drink lots.

-Cold weather and wind can cause hypothermia and windchill. Be aware of this, and watch for any signs.

-The resort can be a large place, always identify a meeting place for your group, and remember that cell phone reception can vary across the mountain.

-Know your limits: if you need a break, take one. If you find yourself in terrain above your capabilities always slowly sideslip down, or call for help if you are in danger.

-Take extra care when loading and unloading the lifts: Be aware of those around you, and if you fall while unloading, clear the area as quickly as possible to prevent pileups.

-Be aware that resort staff may use snowmobiles and groomers throughout the day. Always give these vehicles the space they need.

-Remember ski boots can be difficult to walk in: take extra care on slippery areas especially around the base area.

-If you are a non-skiing observer and have friends or children on the mountain, always be aware of other mountain users and staff and give them the space they need.

Ski field safety is essential to having a successful and fun day on the mountain. Remember these tips and guidelines to have maximum fun and reduce risk and injury for all!

-Written by Emily Parker.