Uncle Sam: Gimme back my cannon | SierraSun.com

Uncle Sam: Gimme back my cannon

Paul Raymore
An Alpine Meadows ski resort vehicle transports a 119-A howitzer, April 23, 2004 through the resort's ski runs above Tahoe City, Calif., near Lake Tahoe. This 119-A was one of five U.S. Army-loaned howitzers used at the Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain resorts to intentionally trigger avalanches in hazardous areas by firing rounds into snow-covered mountainsides. The U.S. military is demanding the resorts return the howitzers so they can be deployed for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Rachael Woods)
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The U.S. military is demanding two Sierra Nevada ski resorts, including Alpine Meadows, return howitzer cannons used for avalanche control so the weapons can be deployed for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alpine and Mammoth Mountain, under a loan from the U.S. Army, began using five howitzers last year to intentionally trigger avalanches in hazardous areas by firing rounds into snow-covered mountainsides. The ski resorts received word earlier this month that the Army’s Tank Automotive and Armaments Command at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois must have the howitzers returned immediately to support the war.

Ray Belli, ski patrol director at Alpine Meadows, which has one of the cannons, said Army officials did not tell him why they needed the artillery piece back, but that he had heard through the grapevine that they needed the parts to support the war effort in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“We were surprised they still used that type of weapon in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Belli said. “They must have more modern weapons than that these days. “

Patrollers at Alpine use the 105-caliber, 119-A model howitzer to do avalanche control in areas that would be either too difficult to reach or too dangerous to control by hand.

“We use it during storm cycles where we can’t make it up the mountain – where it’s too windy or too dangerous to make it up there – to do certain [avalanche] routes that threaten the entire mountain,” Belli said.

The canon fires a 4-pound charge up to six miles for avalanche control purposes.

Alpine acquired its howitzer at the beginning of this ski season to replace an older, less reliable 106-caliber howitzer. The 106-caliber howitzers have had a poor safety record at area resorts, including a misfire that killed one patroller at Alpine Meadows six years ago and a couple of misfires this past season reported by the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol. Mammoth used the older guns for avalanche control this season.

According to Belli, the government has promised to replace Alpine’s current howitzer with an older version of the same weapon.

“They haven’t come to get it yet,” said Belli of the canon. “We’re still in the process of boxing it up and getting it ready, but we’ll probably have to wait for the snow to melt to bring it down the hill.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.