Search on after just 18 minutes

NZSki staff prepare to board a snow-groomer to help in the grid search on Thursday. Photo by Christina McDonald.
NZSki staff prepare to board a snow-groomer to help in the grid search on Thursday. Photo by Christina McDonald.
Just 18 minutes after being alerted about Thursday's avalanche, searchers were out on the Remarkables skifield.

NZSki chief executive James Coddington said it was standard operating procedure to investigate, despite the avalanche being "considerably outside the ski area".

The 80m wide by 100m long avalanche fell in an area known as the "Terminator Chute", and while it may not have trapped anyone, the exercise to confirm this was recognised by emergency services as a success.

Mr Coddington said yesterday he was "immensely proud of the team effort" from the 40 Remarkables and Coronet Peak staff involved in the search, as well as assistance from other rescue personnel.

The Remarkables' avalanche dog, who is stationed at the skifield for the season, was joined by two dogs and their trainers from Cardrona and they walked the debris before a grid search.

"Grid lines are created so that you are covering one square inch with probes ... it's extremely labour intensiveand energy sapping at best,"

Mr Coddington said.

Although "there was a narrow chance that someone was buried", that did not "diminish the attitude" of searchers who worked to carry out a full rescue response.

The emergency came in the week before the Remarkables' scheduled closing for 2012, though he said the quick response indicated it did not matter whether such an event occurred on the first or last day of the season.

With helicopters transporting rescue personnel and constantly hovering over the site, one ski patroller stood visually co-ordinating the helicopters for three hours.

Once the search concluded at 7pm, off the helicopters came "a lot of very tired people who had been on site for three plus hours who had been doing very physical work", Mr Coddington said.

Added to the physical efforts was the cost of hiring helicopters and paying staff, though "that's just part of the cost of business".

The Mountain Safety Council said the avalanche was part of a normal cycle of spring events, but highlighted the dangers of the alpine back country.

Those planning to travel in such areas could check the avalanche risk on the Mountain Safety Council's website: www.avalanche.net.nz.

The Remarkables skifield opened as usual yesterday, as did Coronet Peak.