Three people on a day walk have been rescued from near the top of a southern mountain after they became trapped in knee-deep snow.

Police said a woman and two friends phoned police for help near the top of Mt Oxford in north Canterbury on Saturday evening after becoming stranded and lost near the summit.

A land search and rescue team and helicopter mounted a joint rescue effort to get the walkers off the mountain safely.

A police spokesperson said knee-deep snow was preventing them from moving forward and the path behind them had turned to ice. As well as being snowbound they were not sure where they were.

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The trio had walked up the mountain from the Coopers Creek car park and were not prepared for the icy conditions on the top of the 1300m peak. Police said they had very little equipment with them.

A rescue helicopter crew spotted the party near the top of Mt Oxford who were cold and pleased to be rescued.

Police said had the helicopter been unable to find them it could have taken up to six hours for rescue teams to reach them on foot.

Police said the incident was a timely reminder for those choosing to go tramping or day walking at this time of year to be prepared.

People heading into the backcountry needed to remember shorter daylight hours and snow conditions were likely to extend any suggested times for walks and people needed to be prepared with food, clothing and maps.

Police urged people to follow five simple rules of the outdoor safety code:

• Plan your trip: Seek local knowledge and plan the route you will take and the amount of time you can reasonably expect it to take.
• Tell someone: Tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned.
• Be aware of the weather: New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes.
• Know your limits: Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.
• Take sufficient supplies: Make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication.