Shooting the Chutes | SierraSun.com

Shooting the Chutes

David Kornblith
Special to the Sun

Submitted to aedgett@sierrasun.comInternational Snow Science Workshop conventioneers flank the Mt. Rose hut for an avalauncher demonstration.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. and#8212; On a clear, sunny October day the missiles flew at Mt. Rose Ski Resort. The red, plastic-finned projectiles launched from the 10-foot aluminum tube were part of an in-field demonstration of the resortand#8217;s battle against avalanches. Though the snow hasnand#8217;t begun to fall in earnest, but the avalauncher demonstrated just one of the methods Mt. Rose ski patrol uses to help keep their snow riding customers safe.

The avalauncher, as is known in the world of snow science and avalanche forecasting, was one of several demonstrations conducted in conjunction with the week-long International Snow Science Workshop 2010. Other demonstrations included avalanche dog rescues, beacon searches, and field displays of interest to this group of almost 1,000 participants.

The ISSW, held at the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, is an international gathering of snow scientists, avalanche forecasters, ski patrollers, avalanche equipment manufacturers, mountain guides, Departments of Transportation, the U.S. Forest Service and others, all with a stake in understanding and learning about the science of snow and avalanches the world over. Participants merge snow science theory and practice, and promote the exchange of ideas and research with the latest forecasting tools and products. The ISSW meets every two years, the 2012 event in Anchorage, Alaska.

About 100 convention participants were bused from Squaw Creek to Mt. Rose ski resort to witness the demonstration. Flanking the avalauncher hut, the conventioneers watched the demonstration perched along the forested slopes. One-by-one the projectiles were launched into the resortand#8217;s chutes area almost a mile away. The projectiles are not armed themselves, but use concussive energy to release the unsturdy snow. The avalauncher can be adjusted for elevation, bearing and pressure.

The avalauncher was first developed in the 1950s by Utah resident and and#8220;fatherand#8221; of modern avalanche forecasting and safety in the U.S., Monty Atwater. Realizing there must be a safer way of inducing avalanches than artillery, Atwater got the idea for the avalauncher from a visit to the San Francisco Seals baseball team. Watching the pitching machine, Atwater felt he could adapt the technology to an avalauncher prototype. Atwater and his device were invited to the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.

The device utilizes compressed gases to project a foot-long, plastic missile-like shot as far as a mile into avalanche prone areas of a resort. The resulting avalanche clears the unsafe snow rendering the area safe for skiers and snowboarders.

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and#8212; Submitted to aedgett@sierrasun.com