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Alta, Snowbird will be the first US resorts to use avalanche protection towers

Fresh snow in Utah brings new avalanche warnings from the Utah Avalanche Center. Containing these avalanches is vital and the Utah Department of Transportation has used many different methods to achieve it, said Steven Clark, director of UDOT’s Avalanche Program.

“It started with going out on a slope, placing some sort of explosive with your hand, and then moving away before the explosion detonated,” said Clark.

But this method often puts workers on unstable slopes, Clark said, making it difficult to cover a large area. He said the use of military artillery is another method that works well but is ultimately unsustainable, causing Utah to move in a different direction.

“That’s really the main reason we’re implementing these avalanche control systems,” says Clark. “We’re trying to reduce our reliance on artillery.”

Remote avalanche control systems are permanent structures in avalanche launch areas 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 country using a remote system. Jake Treadwell, Snowbird’s senior director of mountain operations, said safety is at stake.

“Occupational safety comes first,” said Treadwell. “It keeps workers out of these areas.”

Snowbird and Alta both installed Wyssen towers in 2021, which Treadwell said lower charges to set off an avalanche. He said Snowbird is excited about the possibilities these systems are offering the resorts.

“We believe this is the future of avalanche protection in North America and for us,” said Treadwell.

Four towers are installed in both resorts and UDOT has another thirteen towers.

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