New Avalanche Exploders Installed in Little Cottonwood Canyon

UDOT and Harrison Western Corporation are installing five Gazex avalanche exploders on the Snowbird side of Blackjack Ridge.  Your correspondent, never missing an opportunity to rationalize time away from the computer, climbed up to investigate and interrogate the construction crew. Sling loading their materials by Bell 212 Huey helicopter from the staging area in Alta’s main parking lot, their supplies and concrete moved via sling rope, each load’s arrival announced by rotor wash windstorm.

For those who don’t know, avalanche exploders are the silver pipes sticking out of the lower slopes on Mount Superior opposite the Cliff Lodge and looking like oversized dryer vents for the mountain. Fueled by mixing propane with oxygen and ignited by piezo electric spark, the result is a controlled explosion. In theory this creates enough jolt to initiate avalanches in the immediate vicinity of the exploder. This saves the state and ski resorts the costs and risks of dropping charges or shooting the most consistently threatening slopes.

Mark Quigley and Kasey Christiansen placing cliff explosives

Hanging from a cliff face by climbing harness were Mark Quigley and Kasey Christiansen. Both men along with the rest of their Harrison Western crew are responsible for placing the devices and running the fuel lines supplying each exploder. Utah local Kasey (on the right) asked your blogger relay his current status as single and eligible, so there you go Kasey.

The Blackjack Ridge array is the latest installment of another 30-40 devices planned for the canyon. According to Matt McKee, UDOT lead for Hwy 210, Blackjack ridge is a difficult closure to maintain safely and this summer’s project will reduce the closure times from an hour plus to 20 seconds. Pretty impressive.