SNOWBIRD, Utah — Alta and Snowbird both took a piece out of the Utah Department of Transportation avalanche mitigation playbook this past summer.
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The two resorts in Little Cottonwood Canyon had a company from Switzerland install specialized avalanche mitigation towers which use remote avalanche control systems to detonate an area to trigger a slide.
“They are scattered throughout the mountain in hard to reach areas for us to control and to control as if we were to go out and do our hand routes as we usually do,” said Erik Murakami, Assistant Director of Snow Safety at Snowbird Resort. “Really we are putting these in our most challenging spots on the mountain.”
Over the summer, Wyssen Avalanche Control installed four towers at Alta in the East Castle Area and four towers at Snowbird in the Mineral Basin area. According to Wyssen, these are the first towers installed within a resort boundary area in the United States.
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The first Wyssen tower installed in the United States was in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Cardiff Bowl area across the street from Alta Ski Resort in 2017.
According to Wyssen, the towers were installed by Alpine Mountain Construction, a local construction team based out of the SLC area.
UDOT uses these towers along with other remote avalanche control systems (RACS) to perform avalanche mitigation work in the canyon. Now, UDOT has 13 Wyssen Towers they’re using in the area.
The towers can be controlled remotely and from afar, so mountain staff and ski patrollers don’t need to hike or ski into some of these areas with rough, sometimes unforgiving terrain.
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“If we were to do it the old way, on skis, it could take us up to 10 guys in couple of hours, now it could take one person in ten minutes,” said Murakami, mentioning that these towers could likely open up certain areas of the mountain, quicker.
Since this is the first season for the use of Wyssen towers, there’s a chance they may add more towers in other parts of the resorts in the future.