To an ex infantryman the answer was obvious...fight the avalanches
November 15, 2023 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Alta ski area this year retired its military howitzers used for avalanche control over the last 75 years. They have produced a short 7 min movie - "The Last Gunners" - on the history of using military artillery for avalanche control at Alta - where it was pioneered in the US.

Military Artillery has been in use at various ski resorts around the US and is being replaced as the US Army moves towards a phase out of civilian use of military artillery. Replacements include the in-development Boom Whoosh, Wyssen Avalanche Towers, O'Bellx exploder and similar remote controlled systems.

Bonus: That one time a Utah Department of Transportation avalanche cannon misfired and blew up a family’s house 3 miles away (no one was injured)
posted by inflatablekiwi (15 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting, I just watched Buried on Netflix, about the 1982 Alpine Meadows avalanche...there was a reference to Monty Atwater in that documentary as well.

Baader-Meinhof anyone? No mention of ancient Rome, though...
posted by Chuffy at 10:27 AM on November 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

I kind of imagine Monty Atwater thinking any day with deep powder worth skiing *clearly* constituted an emergency under the National Guard’s direction. So away he went, firing a few shells up the hill….yeet
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:54 AM on November 15, 2023

Back in the 90s after I completed my avalanche training course in the Donner Pass area, they said if I wanted to go along with the ski patrol on their avalanche control patrol I was welcome. O to ski virgin fresh powder immediately after a storm! But they said I needed to be there at 5 am so I had to let the opportunity go.

I coulda been a contenda! Firing mortars at avalanches!
posted by phliar at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2023 [2 favorites]

Canada still runs Op PALACI at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park (not that Glacier National Park). When I worked with Parks Canada it was my dream to be a guest gunner, I wrote chunks of the winter permit system for people skiing in and around these gun placements, but alas, it was not to be.
posted by furtive at 1:08 PM on November 15, 2023

"Donner! Party of ten!
Donner! Party of nine!"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 1:10 PM on November 15, 2023 [3 favorites]

As a teenager in the 80s I worked as fine dining cook at Snowbird,right next door, and they both used military shells for avalanche control. At the top of the Cliff Lodge where I worked I remember many a morning setting up for brunch and the big 25 foot windows of the dining room flexing back and forth as these shells exploded. In fact it was one such morning I cooked breakfast for Rob Lowe in the days after his sex tape scandal.
posted by ShakeyJake at 1:17 PM on November 15, 2023 [5 favorites]

I wonder when modernizing their avalanche equipment if Alta is also going to modernize their policies and allow snowboards, considering they’re the only resort on public land that prohibits them. Even by skiing standards, Alta seems so snobby…

Snark aside, this was a really cool watch. It’s easy to imagine seeing a cornice fall trigger an avalanche and connecting the dots to artillery. I assume the use of dynamite in avalanche control predates the use of artillery?

As someone with a desk job, I was always jealous of ski patrol friends until one day I tagged along and rode a closed lift into a storm. Absolutely miserable skiing, visibility, wind, etc. The idea of doing that in the dark at 5am with a backpack full of explosives brought a healthy reality check to the hard work some ski patrol does.
posted by yeahwhatever at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2023 [4 favorites]

It’s been long enough that Donner party jokes are OK, but the snow in the Donner Pass area as as dangerous as ever. The train stuck there in 1952 has lots of great coverage.

I will look forward to watching these videos soon
I have tons of respects for the ski patrols guys and gals that keep the mountain safe. not to mention the snow plow operators who make sure the roads are clear both for skiers and for trucks that need to get through
posted by CostcoCultist at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2023

Also not directly related but RIP to the worked killed last week at Palisades Tahoe
posted by CostcoCultist at 2:38 PM on November 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

No mention of ancient Rome, though...

I just lost The Game.
posted by hippybear at 2:40 PM on November 15, 2023 [2 favorites]

MSTies will be immediately reminded of Avalanche, skewered in season 11 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
posted by dr_dank at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2023

if Alta is also going to modernize their policies and allow snowboards, considering they’re the only resort on public land that prohibits them.

I am a snowboarder first (and a shit-ass skier second). When I moved out here I honestly thought I was going to have my 5 minute daily hate of Alta, Deer Valley, and now Deer Valley + Mayflower for being ski only. But honestly there is more than enough terrain for the odd quirky ski only resort. And yeah it’s leased public land - but the real barrier is the $180+ daily pass cost anyway.

Besides which, Alta deserves far more disdain (and maybe the full 5 minute daily hate) for supporting the Gondola and the environmental destruction of LCC that it will cause. The fuck are they thinking. It blows my mind just how bad that project is (except for the owners of Alta and Snowbird and the Gondola company). It’s the quintessential Simpson’s Monorail story. Just waiting to find out who in Utah State Government is getting their beak wet on this billion dollar disaster.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:09 PM on November 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

Patrolling is hard work and for what it entails is really underpaid. Average salary is about $20 an hour and was pushed up a bit when Vail (41 resorts all together) implemented a base $20 an hour salary for all positions. Meanwhile here in the Midwest patrolling is a volunteer position which also kind of means only some people are able to afford to do it.

Patrol dogs are really good boys. That should also be said.
posted by misterpatrick at 12:41 PM on November 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Patrol dogs are really good boys.

And girls! Which reminds me I have to go get my Good Boys and Girls of the Wasatch 2024 Calendar in support of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, and featuring Deer Valley's new ski patrol dog Maggie, who is a very good girl doggo indeed....
posted by inflatablekiwi at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

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