Alta and Snowbird’s New Avalanche Towers

avalanche tower

Let’s see- we had super early snowfall in October that amped everybody up for the ski season. That was the fluffer. But then, just like the partner who gets a headache, the winter potential rolled over and took a snooze until mid December (now). Guess what all this adds up to? A sketchy avalanche situation for the rest of ski season. There have been 30+ skier-triggered avis in the Salt Lake area since October 14 according to The Utah Avalanche Center.

But luckily at inbound resorts, this isn’t something the average rider needs to worry about. First, it takes highly skilled, highly caffeinated ski patrol to get out on the hill before daylight to assess conditions, evaluate the dangers and start mitigating them. Then those patrol throw explosives into potentially unsafe areas to see if they can get the snow to “release”; better to do it before you open the area of skiing, when no humans could be swept away and buried. Once, things settle, they will ski cut the terrain to make sure it’s safe for the public.

This cut wasn’t made by a patroller but you get the idea-

As you can imagine, ski patrollers are first in line if something goes wrong so any sort of device that can create distance between them and a slide is a game changer. This year, Alta and Snowbird ski resorts installed 13 new avalanche towers.

The towers made by Wyssen Avalanche Control, use a remote control to trigger a blast. “The deployment box contains 12 prepared explosive charges, which can be individually deployed by remote control. When the explosive charge is dropped, two igniters are pulled and the explosion is set off after a time delay. The charge remains hanging from a cord at a pre-set height above the snow cover, which is completely dropped after blasting. To reload explosive charges the complete deployment box is lifted from the mitigation tower by helicopter and brought to a station building or warehouse respectively.”

These avalanche towers may be new to The Bird and Alta but Alta, often considered to be the birthplace of North American avalanche research, was an early adopter of remote-controlled systems. The resort uses Remote Avalanche Control Systems (RACS) along with Avalaunchers, two-pound hand charges and an M101-A1 105 Howitzer to control avalanche-prone slopes around the ski area.

The next time you are scooting across the East Baldy Traverse, look up and check out the alien-spaceship-looking things above you. These O’Bellx’, use a mix of oxygen and hydrogen to create an explosion that generates controlled avalanches.

Alta Ski Areas Obellx Avalanche System
Courtesy Alta Ski Area

Pretty cool, huh? So that’s what’s going to keep you safer in Little Cottonwood Canyon this winter.


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