We visited Kosciuszko National Park and went backcountry skiing with the crew from Mountain Safety Collective to learn about alpine hazards. Then we skied fresh powder because, well as if you wouldn’t?


The windscreen wipers were working overtime as we drove from Jindabyne, passed Thredbo resort and up to Dead Horse Gap. They weren’t working to remove snowflakes either, but sheets of heavy rain that lashed the windshield.

Other countries and cultures have dozens of words for snow. In Sweden, there are 25, Iceland 46 and the Sami have at least 180 words.

In Australia, there are only two we care about;


And, rain.

In the Dead Horse Gap car park 1580m above sea level, the precipitation was still very much the unfrozen variety. But, temperatures were dropping as we waited for Craig Sheppard and Alex Parsons, our touring partners and podcast guests to arrive.

Alex Parsons, a professional backcountry guide, was the first to arrive as the freezing level began to nudge zero degrees celsius. Then, a few minutes later Craig pulled up and declared the sky was now showering us with ‘sago snow’ —  a fine hail that masquerades as snow from a distance.

As MSC’s Lead Forecaster with decades of experience analysing and talking about snow in all its forms, it’s fair to say Craig has probably got a few hundred words for the stuff himself.

That’s why when he announced that it was finally snowing for real, we all got pretty excited.


Large flakes finally falling at Dead Horse Gap parking lot.

The Collective — A Community of Snow Frothers Putting Safety First

Mountain Safety Collective – or MSC – is a non-profit organisation supporting the blossoming Australian backcountry community.

Made up of backcountry professionals and recreationists, by their own admission, ‘At the governance level we reflect our membership with a mix of punters, frothers, avy pros and patrollers.’

Their main service is delivering daily backcountry conditions reports throughout the Australian snow season — from the June long weekend through to October 31.

However, they also provide a number of other resources and facilities like Avalanche Training Centres and topographic maps designed for backcountry navigation. They’re also a respected voice for the community with government and industry groups when it comes to promoting backcountry education.

They’re able to provide the critical services that they do — free of charge — not only thanks to their individual membership program but in large part, thanks to the support of their Siganture Sponsor Arc’teryx — a brand whose jackets and pants we were more than happy to be wearing given the battering of rain, sago and snow we were receiving.


The Arc’teryx fossil logo is a staple on the skin track. Read about its origin story here

Daily avalanche forecasts are the kind of service that comes pretty standard in other snowy corners of the world, but something Australia has historically lacked, and not for want of hazardous conditions. 


The Catalyst — Increasing Incidents in The Backcountry

The catalyst — or trigger, to use the avalanche term — was the winter of 2014.

According to MSC, there was ‘an alarming increase in incidents across the range. In North East Vic alone, five parties became overwhelmed by the conditions and required rescue from remote areas. Unfortunately, two people lost their lives in a catastrophic avalanche event.’

The shocking thing is conditions weren’t necessarily worse than normal that season either.

Simply, according to MSC, ‘more people [were] heading ‘out’, and potentially, [they were] collectively less prepared.’

The Uptake on Avy’s Down Under

Australia has a history of being notoriously blasé when it comes to avalanche safety.

If you opened the backpacks of most backcountry goers a decade or two ago, the requisite backcountry safety gear we know today — an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel — probably wasn’t in there.


An avalanche beacon also called a transceiver, sends a searchable signal to rescuers in the event you’re buried in an avalanche. It’s considered a mandatory piece of backcountry equipment. As is the knowledge of how to use it.


Avalanche beacons have a simple interface that directs the responder towards the buried signal.


If you’re not immersed in the world of snowsports you’d be forgiven for thinking we don’t get avalanches here in Australia. They’re not making the news and there was little evidence they existed — at least before social media — unless you were actually out there in the field stumbling upon the debris.

However, there was also an undercurrent of denial or dare we say hubris, by those who were engaged and immersed in snowsports for some time. Thankfully, this is changing before our eyes and MSC are at the helm of the cultural shift.


The 2022 Snow Season — A Flying (And Sliding) Start

This winter hoped to be a return to normalcy for alpine regions after battling wildfires and two truncated seasons due to Covid lockdowns.

Most would have settled for an average snow season, even a below average one, if it meant a few turns on a mostly white canvas.

However, right in the face of Murphy’s Law, we ended up with the snowiest start to an Australian ski season in 22 years, and arguably one of the best starts ever. Up to 50cm fell in 24 hours alone at one point!


Alex Parsons is happy to see ‘real’ snow at the start of our backcountry tour.


However, as seems inevitable here in Australia, the ‘r word’ came to literally rain on our parade and we saw a number of rain events to close out June. 

A cycle of wind-loaded snow on top of a touchy layer of rain-affected snow was a recipe for avalanches and according to MSC, ‘From July 16 onwards we started seeing skier triggered avalanches occurring in and out of the resorts.’

‘An ice climber at Blue Lake triggered a wind slab and was pushed over a cliff — no injuries reported.’

‘Another slab avalanche inside a resort had a crown 2m high, 50m wide and ran for 100m, triggered by a controlled cornice collapse. Skiers also triggered an avalanche just outside of a resort boundary – again, no injuries reported, but a good reminder that easily accessible ‘sidecountry’ is uncontrolled avalanche terrain.’


A skier-triggered windslab avalanche on 18 July 2022, just outside a popular resort boundary. Photo: David Kuhn


The icing on the cake of the accidental social media avalanche awareness campaign was images of the Sentinel Ridge Slides reported on Tuesday 28 June, 2022.

The avalanches weren’t witnessed directly, but it was hard to miss the debris pile lying near the bottom of one of Australia’s most iconic-looking peaks.

Photos courtesy of local backcountry guides and MSC members Rohan Kennedy and Jake Iskov who stumbled upon the immense debris pile a few days after it was suspected to have slid.



Dead Horse Gap And Evidence of Avalanches Past

We were now being buffeted by large flakes of legitimate snow as we slowly made our way through the snow gums above Dead Horse Gap.
At one point Craig reported that it was now ‘S3’ — forecaster speak for snowing 3cm per hour.


While the terrain at Dead Horse is significantly more user-friendly than what you find on the Australian ‘Main Range’ and ‘Western Faces’ behind the NSW ski resorts of Thredbo and Perisher, we were still mindful to stay out of the alpine given the poor visibility on offer.

Thankfully a few days earlier we’d already made it to the top of South Rams Head, the 2052m peak at the top of Dead Horse Gap (don’t ask me what our obsession with farm animals as backcountry landmarks is about).


A much sunnier time in the alpine a few days before our tour with MSC.

Since going ski-tour-less last season in Sydney we were keen to stretch the legs so as not to be left for dead(horse) when joined by the pros in a few days.

We were rewarded by a view towards the ranges and spied from the top of South Rams Head, the debris left behind from yet another avalanche, one that Craig and MSC confirmed to be a Size 3 slide on an area called Twin Humps in Leather Barrel Creek.



Avalanches are judged according to the Canadian avalanche scale and, ‘a size 3 avalanche could bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a small building, or break a few trees.’

Needless to say what the kind of damage it could do to a person…

Alex Parsons had inspected the debris herself, soon after the slide occurred naturally on July 20th and noted the so-called crown wall — the fracture point where the avalanche cracks away from the mountainside — was up to 2m high in some places.


An example of an avalanche crown. Photo: Trevor Chick

The Ski Part of Ski Touring

Back in the blizzard and having ascended to around 1900m and with 5cm of fresh snow now on the ground, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer. It was time to transition to the ski part of the ski tour. What many, myself included call, the fun part. 

For as enjoyable as the uphill is, with its meditative rhythm and full immersion in nature, it’s hard, nigh impossible, to rival the joy of sliding back down.



Propelled by gravity and compelled to pick your own line between the trees, we rode what Craig now comically described to us as ‘hot pow’.

And did we ride it! No horses here, we rode the hot pow all the way to the bottom.

A collective of four letting out hoots and ‘yewwws’ that reverberated across the valley.

Listen to the Inside Out Series – Part 3: Backcountry with Mountain Safety Collective

Explore further: Inside Out – Arc’teryx X We Are Explorers