Snow and Avalanche Center Avalanche News - 2006

Climbers flee Taranaki avalanche
07 July 2006

Three climbers ran for their lives as an avalanche ploughed down Mt Taranaki yesterday.

The 1000-tonne avalanche thundered down the Manganui Gorge about 2.10pm, narrowly missing the three men, who were on the mountain checking conditions.

Brooke Fletcher said his leg was stuck in a hole when he heard a thunderous sound from above.

"I just ran for it," Mr Fletcher said.

He had thought the noise was just the wind before looking up to see the snowslip heading towards them.

"It was cool, because we had been talking about seeing it come down on the way up and when we came down, guess what was behind us?" he said.

New Zealand Mountain Safety Council avalanche adviser Todd Velvin said the avalanche started about 2000m up.

"It got airborne as it came over a large cliff, that is when we could hear it," he said. "It was pretty exciting – avalanches aren't witnessed every day, as they normally happen during storm conditions while there is no one around."

The track the men were on has been closed to the public because of the danger. The men were only 50m to the side of the path of about 1000 tonnes of snow as it crashed down the mountainside.

"It is one of those things that you don't want to be in the path of."

However, it was an impressive sight to see, Mr Velvin said.

"It was very spectacular, they are always pretty spectacular to watch. Quite mesmerising really."

It was the first time he had seen an avalanche on the mountain.

Mr Velvin had worked in the ski industry for 10 years and had seen avalanches first hand on a number of New Zealand's mountains.

The avalanche was a class three on a scale of one to five – with five being the worst – and would have been capable of destroying a house.

"The Manganui Monster tends to collect a lot of snow over time . . . the last few weeks, with the warm conditions and a bit of rain, it reached a point it could no longer stay on the mountain and slipped off," Mr Velvin said.

Avalanches usually happened in spring, but this season was shaping up to be an exceptional year for snow, with two smaller slips in the Manganui Gorge already.

The avalanche was believed to be the biggest since 2001, when part of the track to the skifield was destroyed.

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