The nationally recognised training programme for professionals

Avalanche Programme

Avalanche Safety Training

Otago Polytechnic
Supported by the
New Zealand
Mountain Safety Council


Who is the course for? · The Avalanche Programme · Instructors
Avalanche Safety For Stage 1 Courses · Diploma in Avalanche Studies
Equipment Requirements · Location, Dates & Fees · Applications & Enquiries

Who are the courses for?

The Avalanche Programme is designed for people working in the mountain environment in a professional capacity. This could include ski patrollers, ski area staff, mountain guides, outdoor leaders, teachers, police, armed forces personnel and search and rescue teams. The courses are also open to the public who are interested in gaining further knowledge of avalanche safety.

The Avalanche Programme

The Avalanche Programme is jointly administered by Otago Polytechnic and the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and is the nationally recognised training programme for professionals working in the field. The New Zealand courses are modelled on the Canadian Avalanche Association professional training programme, both of which are recognised at an international level. See attached article from the CAA on equivalency by Ian Tomm and Clair Isrealson

The courses are offered at introductory (Avalanche Safety Stage 1) and advanced levels (Avalanche Safety Stage 2 and Diploma in Avalanche Studies). The course curriculum has been developed over many years and is reviewed annually to ensure that the course content remains current and to the highest possible standard. This programme is a mix of both classroom and field work with observation techniques and application of observations being emphasised in the field work.

Otago Polytechnic also offers a full-time, twenty week programme Certificate in Avalanche Safety & Snowsport Instructing (ski) or (snowboard) which has the stage 1 avalanche safety qualification embedded within it. This programme is designed for students looking to gain a wider range of skills or those who may not have extensive experience in the mountain environment.

The full-time programme runs from mid May to early October and is based in Wanaka.

Otago Polytechnic also has a full-time, eighteen week programme based at Cardrona Alpine Resort, Certificate in Snowsport Instructing (ski) or (snowboard), for those wishing to become instructors.


The course instructors are specialists in avalanche safety with both local and international experience. Where possible they are chosen on the basis of their experience specific to the course venue. In the field student/instructor ratios do not exceed 6:1, which allows for a considerable degree of personal attention.

Avalanche Safety Stage 1

This is an introductory course for people involved in the safety of alpine recreational activities and in the collection of snowpack data. At the completion of the course, participants should have the basic skills to:

  • improve decision making skills to minimise travel risks
  • recognise avalanche terrain and identify safe route selection
  • understand the formation and classification of avalanches
  • identify and record current weather conditions
  • identify and interpret snow crystals and structures
  • carry out snowpack analysis and record snow profiles
  • contribute to an avalanche search and rescue operation
  • improve personal safety awareness
Entry Requirements

In order to be eligible for the above course participants should:


In order to successfully complete the course, participants will be required to demonstrate sound weather and snowpack observation techniques, knowledge of avalanche terrain and phenomena and effectively perform rescue skills within a specified timeframe.


Course time is 6½ days from 8am Sunday - Saturday midday inclusive. Access to residential course venues is available from midday on the Saturday prior to course commencement.

Locations, Dates & Fees

Please click for current dates, locations and fees.

Applications and Enquiries

All inquiries to:
Barbara Emmitt
Otago Polytechnic, PO Box 16, Cromwell, New Zealand.
Phone: +64 3 445 9932 · Freephone (within NZ): 0800 765 9276 · Fax: +64 3 445 9909

Diploma in Avalanche Studies - including Avalanche Safety Stage 2

This programme has been developed in response to increasing demand for skilled staff who can take responsibility for snow safety programmes in a variety of contexts or teach snow safety programmes.

Embedded in the programme is the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s Avalanche Stage 2 award which is a requirement for many positions in the industry. Further compulsory courses and electives are then completed to gain the Diploma. Click here to see how the courses relate to each other.

Avalanche practitioners must be able to gather relevant snow, weather and avalanche information, apply their knowledge in a range of contexts and exercise appropriate decision-making skills to minimise the risk of an avalanche incident or accident.  Advanced practitioners manage programmes protecting the safety of others in ski area operations, guiding, roading and instructional sectors of the avalanche safety industry.

Students graduate with an Otago Polytechnic Diploma in Avalanche Studies at level 6.

The Stage 2 part of the programme is now based on the Canadian Avalanche Association’s Stage 2 qualification, to ensure consistency with international standards, and uses Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) resources.

The programme includes a considerable component of on-site experience to ensure that students can apply their skills in varying situations, and experience a wide range of snow pack conditions.

Students will generally be employed in the industry while studying, so a very flexible programme has been developed with students able to access by distance as much of the learning as possible and to work at their own pace.

Programme Structure

The Diploma in Avalanche Studies is 125 credits, and equivalent to one years fulltime study:

Compulsory Courses

The following five courses need to be successfully completed prior to enrolling for the Integrated Practical Assessment:

Applied Snow Studies 20
Terrain and Snowpack Analysis Theory     5
Rescue / Mitigation Measures Theory  10
Decision Making / Personal & Professional Development Theory  15
Field Training 10
Integrated Practical Assessment  10

On successful completion of the above 70 credits students will be awarded the MSC Avalanche Stage 2 Certificate

The following courses are required for the awarding of the Diploma in Avalanche Studies and may be enrolled in at any time:

Compulsory Courses
Advanced Forecasting  10
Data management 10
Management Skills 15

Electives —choose one of the following:
Instruction 20
Ski Area Operations 20
Roading Operations 20
Research / Special Topic 20


125 credits

Entry Requirements

  • Provide evidence of having successfully completed Avalanche Safety Stage 1 or overseas equivalent
  • Complete a Health & Safety Declaration.

  • Planning Your Study

    You are able to commence the programme at any time.  In the first instance you need to contact Barbara Emmitt, the Programme Administrator to discuss your individual “Path of Study” and how to get started.  Barbara is based at the Cromwell office of Otago Polytechnic and can be contacted by phoning 03 445 9932 or 0800 765 9276 or by email .

    The Stage 2 Programme

    • Applied Snow Studies (a mentored logbook, intended to be done mostly in the workplace documenting your supervised use of Stage 1 skills and feedback given). To have the field related mileage to complete Stage 2, expect to spend a minimum of 100 days applying these skills. You must document your time doing this using the templates provided for completing the Applied Snow Studies course. Having the capability to complete this to a satisfactory level is paramount to success on the Integrated Practical Assessment.
    • Three theory courses
      • Terrain & Snowpack Analysis
      • Rescue & Mitigation Measures
      • Decision Making / Personal Professional Development
        These will all be completed as distance study using Moodle – an online e-learning programme. You will be assigned a Theory Support Advisor (TSA) to support and guide you through the online material. Once these courses have been successfully completed you will be eligible to enrol in the practical courses.

    You are expected to complete each of the above courses within a nine month period – you can study them one at a time or concurrently. We suggest that you make a start on the Applied Snow Studies mentored logbook straight after completion of Stage 1. Click here to download the templates. You can start on this without enrolling, but you will not be allocated a TSA or be able to submit any work until you actually complete the enrolment process. It is recommended that you plan on completing your theory courses in the quieter times of the year (spring & autumn) when you and your TSA may have fewer industry work commitments.

    You will need access to online computing facilities to undertake the distance learning packages.  If required Otago Polytechnic has Community Learning Centres across Otago including, Cromwell and Queenstown with online facilities and support available for students undertaking distance learning.  Barbara can provide you with more information.

    Block Course Dates

    Please click for current dates, locations and fees.

    Programme Advice

    Peter Bilous, based at the Wanaka Campus is the Programme Manager and any technical queries should be directed to him in the first instance—his contact details are 03 443 5371 or email (preferably).

    Course Fees

    Please contact Barbara Emmitt for a break down of current course fees

    * If block courses are held at a residential venue, there will be an additional cost for accommodation, meals, etc. There may also be an extra charge for lift passes for non season pass holders.

    Students enrolling in 0.25 Equivalent Full Time Study or more may be eligible for Student Loan for the course fees. This criteria is met by enrolling in The Applied Snow Studies and Three Theory Courses at the same time.You need to apply with Studylink on 0800 88 99 00 or via their website .

    Equipment Requirements For Stage 1 Courses

    Personal Gear

    Daily field observations and field trips require participants to spend extended periods of time in the snow. Students are required to bring:

    • spare warm clothing
    • weather-proof outer garments for protection from wind, rain and snow
    • protective eye wear
    • spare hats and gloves
    • warm footwear
    • day pack


    1. Ski Gear (not relevant to non-skiing course). Participants must be prepared for full day back-country field excursions which involve travelling uphill and downhill in variable conditions. Students will therefore need ski / snowboard equipment appropriate for ski-touring activities, including skins or snowshoes for boarders, and BE FAMILIAR with their use.

    2. A backpack suitable for day excursions.

    3. Each student must provide their own avalanche transceiver (457 kHz), portable snow shovel and collapsible probe.

    4. Course participants must supply their own observation equipment. This must include the following:
      • hand lens (8x magnification)
      • snow crystal screen / grid
      • two dial stem thermometers
      • folding ruler (approximately 2 metres) or a locking tape measure
      • snow saw (approximately 300 mm)
      • pocket calculator
      • 2 pencils
      • compass

    All inquiries to:
    Barbara Emmitt
    Otago Polytechnic
    PO Box 16, Cromwell, New Zealand
    Phone: +64 3 445 9932 · Freephone 0800 765 9276
    Fax: +64 3 445 9909
    Otago Polytechnic



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