Utah ski resorts upgrade avalanche mitigation technology to phase out old military artillery

Aug 5, 2022, 7:24 PM

ALTA, Utah — Alta Ski Area is installing new avalanche towers to better protect skiers and to phase out old military artillery.

This summer, the resort is installing five Wyssen avalanche towers from the Switzerland-based company around Mt. Baldy, according to Mike Maughan, Alta’s general manager. Alta installed three last summer in the Supreme area of the mountain, and several more will be installed next year.

Several howitzers — military weapons that launch a projectile — are currently in use in Little Cottonwood Canyon to trigger controlled avalanches. 

“Mov(ing) away from anything that’s shooting a projectile in the air is a safer, better way to do avalanche mitigation work,” Maughan said.

This winter will be the last time that Alta uses their howitzer, Maughan said. The U.S. Army has given a 2026 deadline to phase out civilian and business use of the military equipment. 

The Utah Department of Transportation and other ski resorts, like Snowbird, have also installed towers from the same company. 

“Snowbird will be installing some on their portion of Mt. Baldy next summer also,” Maughan said, “so it’s kind of a joint project.”

A change to the law is needed for UDOT to fully retire their howitzers, he said.

The towers allow avalanches to be triggered remotely.

“It’s loaded with 12 charges, and then remotely, an avalanche professional can send a signal to open one of the shoots and let the charge fall out of the cylinder,” Maughan said.

The explosive drops to the ground, connected to a string, and detonates above the snow. The cartridges are reloaded by helicopter.

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Utah ski resorts upgrade avalanche mitigation technology to phase out old military artillery