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