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Alta, Snowbird will be the first U.S. resorts to use avalanche mitigation towers

An avalanche.

Fresh Utah snow brings with it fresh avalanche warnings from the Utah Avalanche center. Mitigation of these avalanches is crucial and the Utah Department of Transportation has used many different methods to do this, said UDOT avalanche program manager Steven Clark.

“That initially started out with going out onto a slope, and placing some kind of explosive by hand, and then moving away before that explosion detonates,” Clark said.

But this method often puts workers on unstable slopes, Clark said, and makes it difficult to cover a wide area. He said using military artillery is another method that works well, but is ultimately unsustainable, causing Utah to move in a different direction.

“That's really the big reason why we're implementing these avalanche control systems,” Clark said. “We're trying to reduce our dependence on artillery.”

Remote avalanche control systems are permanent structures in avalanche starting zones that are used to remotely trigger avalanches, Clark said. UDOT uses a variety of these systems, but as far as ski resorts go, Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon are the only ones in the nation that use a remote system. Snowbird’s senior director of mountain operations Jake Treadwell said it’s a matter of safety.

“Worker safety is primarily number one,” Treadwell said. “It keeps workers out from those areas.”

Snowbird and Alta both installed Wyssen towers in 2021 which, Treadwell said, lower charges out of them to trigger an avalanche. He said Snowbird is excited for the possibilities these systems give resorts.

“We feel like this is the future of avalanche mitigation in North America and for us,” Treadwell said.

Four towers are installed at both resorts and UDOT has an additional thirteen towers.

Emma Feuz is a senior at Utah State University majoring in broadcast journalism with minors in sociology and political science. She grew up in Evanston, Wyoming where, just like Utah State, the sagebrush also grows. Emma found her love of writing at an early age and slowly discovered her interest in all things audio and visual throughout her years in school. She is excited to put those passions to use at UPR. When school isn't taking up her time, Emma loves longboarding, cheering on the Denver Broncos, and cleaning the sink at Angies.