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Snowbird debuts high-tech alternative to artillery for avalanche control

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Posted at 10:20 PM, Nov 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-08 00:20:27-05

SNOWBIRD, Utah -- It's the first of its kind in Utah, and it kind of looks like an egg. But, it's actually a high-tech machine that's capable of triggering more than a dozen explosions, which can be helpful for avalanche control.

At first glance, you wouldn't think this pod at Snowbird is worth $150,000. But, Snowbird says the breakthrough machine will help crews with avalanche control work throughout the season.

There are already nine artillery stations on Snowbird private property that the Utah Department of Transportation owns and manages.

Snowbird says the device is a step toward increasing public safety, since artillery shells can sometimes remain active.

“It reduces our dependency, it certainly doesn’t eliminate it,” said Peter Schory, who is the winter mountain operations director at Snowbird. “We will continue to use artillery within our ski resort and with UDOT on the highway.”

The machine mixes hydrogen and oxygen to trigger explosions underneath the pod. It’s made up of two aluminum tanks, regulators, a computer, and a battery that is charged by solar panels.

One person triggers the blasts using a computer. The pod's tower sits on Mount Superior, above Snowbird Village.

“This exploder is flown up by helicopter, with a hook at the top,” Schory explained. “The helicopter lifts it up, flies it over to the tower that was installed this summer, sets on the tower, it shoots an explosion down, through this cone, onto the snow’s surface.”

Snowbird says you can get about 15 to 20 explosions out of each tank before taking the pod back down to the base to re-supply it.

During the summer, operators can either leave it on the tower, or put it in storage. The resort says without regular blasts, large slides could hit the lodge and potentially bring deadly results.

Daily avalanche forecasts are available through the Utah Avalanche Center.