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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Travel

Mar 31, 2019

“Sidecountry is the Backcountry” – An Interview with The Director of The National Avalanche Center.

Get the forecast, get the gear, get the training. Everything that you need to know before you head out into the back or sidecountry. They're the same thing.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

It’s two days after one of the best powder days of the year. Having worked a five day week, you have already missed out on all the fresh tracks at your local ski area. The best runs are all tracked out, and your favorite in-bounds powder stashes have been found already. How are you going to feed those powder-hungry bones of yours? You’re headed out of bounds.

We have all done it – It’s too easy. You ride the lift to the summit, ski to the side of the area, then simply slip under the small rope with a “Ski Area Boundary” warning sign. You are back in powder heaven.

With both backcountry and sidecountry skiing becoming more and more popular in recent years, and with the 22 avalanche deaths in the 2018-2019 U.S. ski season already, at The Outdoor Journal, we felt that it was a good time to publish some expert information on the subject. We got in touch with Karl Birkeland, the Director of the National Avalanche Center, to ask him a few questions on safety in the sidecountry.

What’s the difference between sidecountry, backcountry, and resort skiing?

Karl: Resort skiing is skiing in open areas within the boundaries of an operating ski area.  Inside ski area the ski patrol does avalanche mitigation work, thereby reducing the avalanche risk to the public.

I don’t particularly like the term sidecountry.  In reality, the sidecountry is the backcountry. People use “sidecountry” for backcountry terrain that is close or adjacent to a ski resort.  Skiers who use this terrain often use the ski lifts at the ski area to access this terrain. However, the snowpack in these areas is no different than the snowpack encountered by other people touring in the backcountry.  This snowpack does not have any avalanche mitigation work done on it, and so it is up to the people going into the backcountry (or sidecountry) to assess the avalanche danger and travel accordingly.

What are the risks of heading into the sidecountry or backcountry? Is there a difference in risk between the two?

Karl: The risks are essentially the same whether you are going into the backcountry or the sidecountry.  In both cases there is no avalanche mitigation work being done and you need to assess the snowpack for the possibility of avalanches.  Personally, I find the risk in the sidecountry to be – if anything – higher than in the backcountry because the large numbers of people in these areas commonly result in unsafe travel practices, like having more than one person in avalanche terrain at a time.

What kind of training/knowledge should a person have before heading out into the backcountry or the sidecountry?

Karl: A person needs solid avalanche training before going into the backcountry, whether that backcountry is adjacent to a ski area or in a remote area.  We recommend that folks always do the following before going into any avalanche terrain:

1) Get the forecast – make sure you check your local avalanche forecast, which is available at www.avalanche.org,

2) Get the gear – everyone in your party needs avalanche safety gear which consists of at least an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe.  Helmets and avalanche airbags are also good safety gear to have.

3) Get the training – Take an avalanche course. You can start by watching the Know Before You Go video at www.kbyg.org and taking the tutorial at www.avalanche.org, and then progress to an actual avalanche course.

What kind of gear should skiers carry with them in the sidecountry? Even if they are simply skiing off the side of a well-maintained resort.

Karl: It is critically important for everyone to “Get the gear”, even if they are just skiing in the backcountry right outside of a ski resort.  At a minimum, folks need to carry – and know how to use – an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe. Avalanche airbags and helmets are also useful safety devices that save lives. 

Are there any specific precautions you take while skiing in the sidecountry?

Karl: The precautions you need to take in the sidecountry are the same as for the backcountry.  You need to “Get the Forecast” by calling the avalanche advisory. You need to carry rescue gear and get avalanche training.  And, you need to be aware that there are many people in these sidecountry areas that have little training and could potentially endanger you by skiing above you or going onto an avalanche slope with more than one person.  So, you have to be extra conservative when travelling in the backcountry adjacent to ski areas.

Anything else you would like to tell our readers about avalanche safety in the sidecountry?

Karl: One thing some people sometimes say is that the sidecountry is safer because it gets more skier compaction.  It is true that some places get more compaction, but that doesn’t always translate to improved snow stability.  Only the dramatic compaction inside of a ski area, combined with the ski area’s avalanche mitigation work, can truly transform the snowpack and make avalanches extremely unlikely.  As such, all-terrain outside the ski area boundary is backcountry and should be treated like the backcountry.

Cover Photo: Paul Downey

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Environment

May 14, 2019

Bringing Kiwi Back to Wellington

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

This article was made available to The Outdoor Journal via a press release by Tourism New Zealand.

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic Kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird. Wellingtonians are known for their love of flat whites and their passion for the arts. But there’s a new pastime that’s rapidly growing in New Zealand’s capital and all around the country.

Assembling and setting traps for rats, stoats and other predators in their own backyards. It’s a somewhat unlikely hobby, but in Wellington alone, there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management.  They’re all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world and a paradise for native birds such as the tīeke (Saddleback), hihi (stitchbird), kākā, kākāriki and toutouwai (North Island robin). 

In Wellington alone there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world. Photo by: Capital Kiwi

Ever since conservation project Zealandia created a fully fenced 225-hectare ecosanctuary within the city limits in 1999, native birdlife has returned to many suburbs and Wellingtonians have embraced their avian friends. The groups are part of a groundswell of community conservation initiatives sweeping New Zealand and delivering fantastic results.

“Where once it would have been a remarkable sight to see a single kākā (a boisterous native parrot) in the wilderness of our mountain ranges, we now have literally hundreds of them across Wellington city, screeching across city skies,” says self-confessed “bird nerd” Paul Ward. Buoyed by the birdsong orchestra he thought, “Why stop there? Let’s bring back New Zealand’s most iconic bird, the Kiwi.” “The only time I’d seen a Kiwi growing up was in a zoo, and that’s not right for our national taonga (treasure),” he insists. 

The flightless birds with hair-like feathers and the chopstick bill have been absent from Wellington for over a century due to the loss of their habitat and the spread of predators. Ward’s ambitious project Capital Kiwi hopes to lure Kiwi back to the Wellington region within the next decade. Approximately 4,400 traps will be set on 23,000 hectares of public and private land stretching from the outskirts of town to the coast.

“Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime”

As long as stoats, ferrets and weasels are around, Kiwi chicks have hardly any chance of surviving their first year.  An average of 27 Kiwis are killed by predators each day according to charity ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’ which supports community-led initiatives around the country. They warn that at this rate “Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.” 

But projects in Rakiura / Stewart Island in the south of New Zealand, Whangarei Heads in the north and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty have shown that with the involvement of the community as kaitiaki (guardians) it is possible to grow a wild Kiwi population. 

The project Capital Kiwi hopes to bring New Zealand’s iconic birds back to Wellington by setting more than 4,000 traps in the hills on the outskirts of the city. Photo by: Capital Kiwi.

Michelle Impey, from Kiwis for Kiwi explains that one of the challenges of Kiwi conservation is “getting people to understand and care about something they can’t see and don’t experience.”

Kiwis are nocturnal, and with only a few exceptions live far removed from cities, towns and villages. “Bringing Kiwi closer to where Kiwis live makes them top of mind, completely relevant, and creates a sense of ownership with those who are privileged enough to have them living on or near their land,” Impey adds. She hopes that the new project will create “a city of Kiwi conservationists” who feel a personal attachment to their national bird. 

In August 2018 the government’s Predator Free 2050 initiative, which aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators that threaten the nation’s natural wildlife by 2050, announced their support for Capital Kiwi, committing more than NZ$3.2 million over the next five years.  It may sound like a lot of money, but the other way of looking at this is “What is the cost if we don’t?” Ward ponders.

“Can we, as a nation of Kiwis, afford to let our national icon die and become extinct? What would that say about us as guardians of the taonga (treasure) that makes our country so special and unique?”

https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featured/environment/reaction-european-single-use-plastic-ban/

Ninety-year-old Ted Smith, who lives in the small seaside settlement of Makara just over the hills from Wellington, helped to kick off the project with the setting of the first trap in November. He and his local community started trapping in their backyards a decade ago which resulted in a remarkable increase in birdlife – tūī, kākā, kererū, pūkeko, kingfishers, quails and others. “If we allow Kiwi to die out then we deserve to be called idiots,” he says. Wellingtonians love the vision of having Kiwi rummaging through their gardens and Ward says he’s been overwhelmed with the offers of help and support from the community.  

“We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington”

Capital Kiwi has received hundreds of emails from people keen to help. Schoolchildren are now monitoring tracking tunnels, mountain bikers and trail runners check reserve trap lines on lunchtime rides and families come together to build traps. If the eradication proves successful after three years, the Department of Conservation will look at translocating Kiwi to the hillsides. The hope is that in less than a decade, tourists will be able to post their Kiwi encounters on the outskirts of Wellington on social media, and locals will beam with pride at hearing the shrill call of the country’s iconic birds in their backyards. 

“I would love to be woken up by the sound of the Kiwi. We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington,” the capital’s Major Justin Lester says. 

The Department of Conservation is backing Capital Kiwi too. “Getting Kiwi back into the hills of Wellington where people can hear them call is a great way to demonstrate what New Zealand could look like if we get rid of the stoats and ferrets,” DOC’s Jack Mace says. 

“It would certainly add another feather to Wellington’s cap as one of the best places to see New Zealand’s unique wildlife.”

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Cover Photo: New Zealand’s little spotted Kiwi at Zealandia Eco-sanctuary in Wellington. Photo by: Zealandia Eco-sanctuary

 

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