A New Era for Outdoor Safety Training

In February I wrote about the structural changes in the Mountain Safety Council, with an expression of concern. A reference which I’d included if I’d known of it was the the MSC’s own explanation of the changes, which is buried in the depths of its website.

The bubble diagram towards the end of that page represents what’s happening quite well. The MSC is removing nearly all of its outdoor safety training, will no longer be setting any safety standards, and instead will shift to a more hands-off model of producing safety messages and collecting information. Reasoning is provided, but the end result is that most of the excellent training programmes and material which the MSC produced, for amateurs and by amateurs, will no longer be available through the Mountain Safety Council in future.

This has caused concern in many circles, which I’m inclined to agree with. For roughly five decades now, the Mountain Safety Council has been synonymous in New Zealand with research, setting of standards, training and expertise for bushcraft, river safety, alpine and climbing skills, avalanche safety, firearms safety, outdoor leadership and outdoor first aid. It’s impressive that the sustained activity in these has mostly come from volunteers, not just to help around the edges but to be fundamentally involved, become experts and to train others up to a high level.

As linked in February, the upcoming move to do away with most training programmes, and then sideline volunteers from the organisation as newly superfluous to requirements (unless they want to simply help with token tasks around the edges) has not gone down well with some of those volunteers.

Federated Mountain Clubs, and apparently the Deerstalkers Association, both of which represent a large number of amateur outdoor clubs and users, are not amused. This is understandable. The Mountain Safety Council came out of the amateur outdoor club structure of the 1960s. It was created as a way to standardise, consolidate and foster good training and learning of outdoor skills at level which wouldn’t be fragmented and silo’d by individual clubs, which is exactly what clubs wanted then and still tend to want today.

Over the decades, however, the MSC has gradually morphed into a different entity which represents a much wider variety of interests beyond amateurs, both government and commercial. Maybe that’s helped to drive this latest decision, although I’m reluctant to speculate too much in this forum. Nevertheless if the MSC itself doesn’t believe its current programme is sustainable or relevant, it leaves a vacuum of demand where outdoor clubs and many amateur outdoor enthusiasts are concerned.

Introducing Outdoor Training New Zealand

Fortunately, a new organisation might take over where the Mountain Safety Council has abandoned. The same day I wrote my earlier post, it was pointed out to me that a group of volunteers, including many existing training volunteers who currently work with the MSC have worked to create Outdoor Training New Zealand. A facebook group for assisting getting it off the ground is here (you’ll need to request to join), with a more formal website on its way.

Outdoor Training New Zealand has now been formalised as an Incorporated Society, with an inaugural Board. Its first three objects are the delivery of outdoor safety and training, the facilitation of assessments for qualifications developing leaders for educating in outdoor safety, and contributing to the creating and distributing of resources and educational material.

These first three objects, in my opinion, are the best parts of the current Mountain Safety Council. Without them I’m struggling to understand how it can remain relevant, and yet it seems to be doing away with them. I guess it has to go in the direction instructed by its directing bodies, but I’m really glad that there’s a serious attempt in the works to set up a replacement. I hope it will be well supported, and I hope it succeeds.

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