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ALTA – Alta Ski Resort is installing new avalanche towers to better protect skiers and phase out old military artillery.
This summer, the resort is installing five Wyssen avalanche towers around Mount Baldy from the Swiss-based company, according to Alta chief executive Mike Maughan. Alta installed three last summer in the supreme area of the mountain, and several more will be installed next year.
Several howitzers – long-range military weapons that launch a projectile – are currently used at Little Cottonwood Canyon to trigger controlled avalanches.
“Moving away from anything that fires a projectile into the air is a safer and better way to do avalanche mitigation work,” Maughan said.
This winter will be the last time Alta will use its howitzer, Maughan said. The US military has given a deadline of 2026 to phase out civilian and commercial use of military equipment.
The Utah Department of Transportation and other ski resorts, like Snowbird, have also installed towers from the same company.
“Snowbird will also be installing some on their part of Mount Baldy next summer,” Maughan said, “so it’s sort of a joint project.”
A change in the law is needed for the UDOT to completely withdraw its howitzers, he said.
The towers make it possible to trigger avalanches from a distance.
“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 drop from the cylinder,” Maughan said.
The explosive falls to the ground, attached to a string, and explodes above the snow. The cartridges are reloaded by helicopter.
“It’s the future of where we see avalanche control work,” Maughan said.