With a Boom and a Bang and a Oops
April 8, 2010 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Controlled avalanche explosions: Right way and wrong way.
posted by Xurando (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe the Russians should limit themselves to 3 beers per workday.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:53 PM on April 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

First video: That is so cool! I totally want that job! Explosions and beautiful scenery and skiing - I can't imagine anything that would stop me wanting to do this every day!

Second video: ...except maybe that.
posted by ZsigE at 3:54 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I believe I now know the Russian for "You're fired".
posted by arcticseal at 4:03 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

One time I drove Canadian Highway 1 through the rockies. In onne stretch of it, it runs through the bottom of an amazing alpine valley, with really steep mountains extending up on both sides. About every quarter mile along it there's a circle of concrete maybe 10 meters across on the side of the road, with four steel studs sticking out of it in the middle.

I couldn't figure out what those were for. Eventually I saw a highway department truck parked next to one of them, so I stopped and asked.

Turns out that in winter that area has a real problem with avalanches, especially with the steep slopes right next to the highway. So they close the road during big snow storms, and after the snow stops, the Canadian army brings in a 5" howitzer. Those circles are where they mount it. They fire HE shells at the mountain slopes to bring the snow down. Once they're finished, the road gets plowed, and then they can open it safely.

That's the job I want!

(That was 30 years ago; maybe they don't do it that way any more.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2010

Chocolate Pickle:

Some searching seems to show that artillery is still used for avalanche control. And, as with all trades, sometimes mistakes are made.
posted by One Thousand and One at 4:21 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

By gum. Here's a recoilless rifle being used for that.

And here's an honest howitzer. (It's nice to see and hear those guys being so careful with it. An artillery piece is very unforgiving of stupid mistakes.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:33 PM on April 8, 2010

See this previous post to get a greater appreciation for the need and the practice of avalanche control.

As if shooting mountainsides with large guns is not worthy of enough appreciation on its own badass merits.
posted by One Thousand and One at 4:46 PM on April 8, 2010

Some nice Russian vocab review in that second clip. I think "huj" and "cipa" are the perfect expressions for this context.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:57 PM on April 8, 2010

The ski patrol also cut some slides with just their skis. My dad used to be one for Whistler for about 10 years. In some areas, though, bomb trams are also used. This is where the explosive is attached to a cable strung across a common start zone and then dropped when it's just in the right place. There's one right below the peak chair in Whistler.

As for wanting that job, it is my understanding that it is mostly volunteer (although there are a few professionally paid ski patrolers). On Whistler you basicaly need at least an 80 hour first aid course called "Outdoor Emergency Care" which teaches you to tell the difference between an injury that needs a toboggan ride to the clinic and an injury that needs a Helicopter evacuation to a hospital like Vancouver General Hospital. It also teaches you how to load someone into a sled or a helicopter while immobilizing their cervical spine. I have taken,
passed and forgotten most of this course.

You also need to take some very long courses on avalanche safety (not just spotting risky areas but digging pits to take a look at the layering of the snow pack. If you want to handle the explosive you usually need a blaster's license.
posted by Pseudology at 5:10 PM on April 8, 2010

Something about things going wrong with staid Russian commentary always cracks me up.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Controlled Great White petting zoo with Russian commentary coming up ...
posted by Elmore at 6:16 PM on April 8, 2010

Avalanches are one event that videos just don't do justice. I've seen one from a long way and it was really incredible, no overwhelming. Then there are folks (not ski patrol) that stomp to get one started and jump into the middle.
posted by sammyo at 7:27 PM on April 8, 2010

I nearly got taken out by an avalanche on the Kicking Horse Pass. Had to stop for a plow that was clearing out the previous slide. I look out my window and the hillside starts to slide at me. Stopped sliding just as it touched the car. Would have pushed me off a very tall cliff.

Watching the "ground" move like that… well, it looks very wrong. Large masses should not move like that.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Youtube comment: "In Soviet Russia, snow plows you."

posted by delmoi at 9:44 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Interesting factoid: the howitzers ski areas use for avalanche control still all belong to the government.

And sometimes the Army needs them back.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:47 PM on April 8, 2010

That first video is beautiful. I like explosions, and I love watching clouds flow in time lapse. Now I see the view from up the mountains is even more awesome in time lapse than I thought. I've been shooting them only from my balcony.
posted by Goofyy at 10:27 PM on April 8, 2010

Awesome, both videos. Glad I wasn't sat on that ski-lift!
posted by wubwub at 4:27 AM on April 9, 2010

I'm trying to figure out what those Russians thought was going to happen. Did they not know snow slides down hill?
posted by DU at 4:50 AM on April 9, 2010

I've watched this done in Switzerland, except they used a small-ish mortar. Very impressive.
posted by hardcode at 7:26 AM on April 9, 2010

> Some nice Russian vocab review in that second clip.

No kidding (though I'm not sure what you mean by "cipa"). Anyone interested in the topic of Russian cursing should investigate this excellent introduction; they allow you to see the first 22 pages for free, which is about 2/3 of the book.
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on April 9, 2010

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