Skiers told to consider their safety

Police and mountain safety officials are reminding skiers of the importance of staying within skifield boundaries after two Coronet Peak skiers were lost and then found over four days this week.

A helicopter search and rescue team was sent out on Tuesday night after snowboarder Paul Hignett went missing. On Sunday, a Christchurch woman became lost at the skifield and had to trek 10km to safety, taking five hours.

Mountain Safety Council programme manager Andrew Hobman said the incidents could have been avoided if people took more care planning before heading up the mountains.

Trips should be planned, friends notified, the weather checked, and skiers should stay within their limits and take sufficient supplies.

On the mountain, three essentials were a torch, a map and a cellphone, Mr Hobman said.

He noted the fault was not always with the individual and noted weather as one of the biggest factors in mountain disappearances.

He said skifields were taking the right safety precautions with signs, but these sometimes had faults and it was impossible to completely rope off or fence boundaries.

The council had been involved with both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables safety signs he said.

"I've got to say that NZ Ski put a lot of effort into their boundary signage, but this could need a review and we will be talking to them."

Constable Julian Cahill was involved in the helicopter search for Mr Hignett on Tuesday night and said the most important thing was to keep inside the slope boundaries.

"I think everything's under control whilst you remain inside the ski boundaries, because staff are there to look after you.

"As soon as you leave the boundaries, your individual safety is your own responsibility."

Travel in the back country was not recommended, and the avalanche risk for Queenstown and Wanaka areas was "high", the Department of Conservation (Doc) Wakatipu area office said.

The Remarkables ski area manager Ross Lawrence said he was satisfied with the mountain's safety procedures and signs, and would not be changing anything at present.

"We're pretty confident with what we have in place and we're not doing anything differently."

Mr Lawrence said it was important for patrons to familiarise themselves with the mountain early in the day.

"The familiarity of, or lack of, the terrain has a huge bearing on those who get lost. We put a lot of signage out and it's up to the people to take notice."

Coronet Peak managers could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Cardrona Alpine Resort ski patrol director and LandSAR search adviser Geoff Wayatt said it had been years since the skifield had a "genuine missing person", but it was always a concern.

"If people are going out into very bad visibility and if they are meandering off just to find good powder snow and they're really not thinking about their own mountain safety, it's an issue," he said.

"People on those inclement weather days should remain conservative and if they have any doubts about their navigational skills, then they should stay on our main trails which do have visibility poles on them and . . . ski with a friend so they have peer support."

Cardrona placed "strong emphasis" on its boundary signs and on warning people of the consequences of leaving vehicles on the mountain after hours.

"We have signage in the car-park to say if a car is left after 5pm, this could result in a very expensive search."

Treble Cone marketing manager Nigel Kerr said the ski area had not experienced any problems this season or in the past with skiers or snowboarders getting lost, but people deliberately venturing off course was "quite a big issue", particularly from the Saddle Basin into the backcountry.


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