Words by: Brent Hillier Photos by: Brent Hillier
Did you know that any guest of Whistler/Blackcomb can take a free avalanche awareness tour? This year I have the pleasure of being a part of this very cool program, and this past weekend all of the guides met for a day of skiing and training on Blackcomb.
An early start is a good start for any day in the mountains. Whistler goes to bed late, but the patrollers wake up early.
All the details of today's snowpack. Information is key but communicating it is crucial.
Scattered around the resort are these avalanche control huts, inside is one of Whistler/Blackcomb's Avalauncher guns.
One of Blackcomb's avalanche forecasters, Tony, was there to give us a run down on how the resort's avalanche control operation works.
The avalauncher is a two-chambered pneumatic cannon that uses compressed nitrogen to fire explosives meant to trigger avalanches in the ski resort. Tony described this tool as a high tech potato canon. It's accuracy, similar to a potato canon, is not great, but it's still safer then sending patrollers out with hand charges.
The projectile has a number of safeties in place to insure that once the explosive is installed into the front, no accidents can happen. The rear of the unit has a pin that is connected to the base using a magnet. Once the projectile impacts the snow that pin is pushed forward, leaving the magnet, striking a blasting cap. The blasting cap is nothing more then a small caliber bullet, that bullet is what sets off the charge.
Weather is what creates avalanches. It is weather plots like this where patrollers gather data used by forecasters to predict and control avalanches throughout the ski area.
With the sun setting, the last thing to do was sweep the mountain. A simple concept and one the patrollers do efficiently and affectively, but it deserves a lot more credit from the public then it gets. Before anyone can go home, 8,171 acres of terrain and 200 marked runs must be skied by a patroller.
If you're interested in joining a free Avalanche Awareness tour they start at 12:30 on Blackcomb at the Avalanche Awareness Centre at the top of the Solar Coaster chair. If you want to stop by and say hi, I'll be there every Friday this winter.
Remember to stay safe out there, if you're not ready to make decision in the backcountry then let Whistler/Blackcomb make those decisions for you and stay inbounds.
For more details on Whistler/Blackcomb's free Avalanche Tours check out their website:
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