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Utah Is First To Adopt New Avalanche Safety Technology

Although outside temperatures are warming, the Utah Department of Transportation is already preparing for what next winter may bring, by adopting avalanche technology from Swiss engineers.

Bill Nalli is the UDOT’s Avalanche Safety Program Manager. He says that rapid changes in snowfall or wind can alter snow surfaces and increase the chances of an avalanche. Mitigating this risk helps keep Utah canyons safe.

“The snowpack on the ground is very important to the formula of whether an avalanche is going to happen, but mostly it’s any rapid change in the weather creates avalanches,” Nalli said.

In the past, artillery has been used to trigger avalanches, however many agencies are now switching over to remote controlled systems.

“What our direction is lately is we’re trying to decrease our dependency on artillery and move to these devices that make explosions without the use of shrapnel, without the use of artillery,” Nalli said. 

The Remote Avalanche Control Systems, otherwise known as RACS, installed in the U.S. came from a Swiss company known as Wyssen and was put into Little Cottonwood Canyon last year. The installation is the first of it's kind in the U.S. 

“So when you shoot artillery it’s landing in the snow and detonating in the snow which prohibits the shock from traveling as far and our system uses an explosive that is held on a rope above the snow and the shock wave can travel a lot farther and more effectively control the area,” said Roz Reynolds, U.S. project manager for Wyssen Avalanche Control.

This past winter was one of the lowest snowfall years on recent record for Utah, but avalanche safety officials warn that dangers will continue to be part of the winter seasons. UDOT is currently installing 8 more RACS systems in the canyons along the Wasatch Front.