Heli-Ski Company Uses Explosives To Help With Avalanche Mitigation

Feb 19, 2021, 5:59 PM

SANDY, Utah – Avalanche danger remains considerable to high across Utah heading into this weekend, but crews spent the past several days trying to improve safety by using a helicopter and explosives.

On Friday, skiers got to head up for their first full day of skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon since Monday, when an interlodge order was put into place.

Crews with the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Avalanche Center worked all week on avalanche mitigation, which caused multiple slides to take place on the road up to the town of Alta. Their secret weapon — help from above.

PowderBird has been around since the 1970s. They hold licenses to do heli-ski trips, but they put on their avalanche worker hats Thursday.

“We had a brief window where the clouds cleared out where we could trigger some avalanches,” said Kevin O’Rourke, PowderBird vice president of operations.

PowderBird partners with state agencies to help with avalanche mitigation in both Little and Big Cottonwood canyons. They launch explosive devices from their helicopters to trigger areas that can’t be seen from the ground and get a more precise reaction.

“To be able to survey what ran naturally — without us, that would be difficult,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke has lived in Alta for decades. He said he has never seen a black rose compass warning from the Utah Avalanche Center before that signaled extreme avalanche danger on all sides and elevation of the mountain.

“The community needs to really respect the hazard that is out there and assume it is still serious,” O’Rourke said.

There is still a warning for people wanting to ski in the backcountry areas. Check Utah Avalanche Center forecasts before adventuring into the mountains.

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Heli-Ski Company Uses Explosives To Help With Avalanche Mitigation