UDOT Goes BOOM!
Canyon Blog spent a frigid (and welcome) afternoon surveying the Utah Department of Transportation’s latest contributions to avalanche mitigation and control. If you haven’t been in Little Cottonwood Canyon since before the word “virus” came to dominate the world, you’ll notice some changes looking north along Emma Ridge above Alta.
Damian Jackson is the UDOT Safety Supervisor for Highway 210 stretching from the mouth of Little Cottonwood to its terminus in town. As such, the 12 Wyssen (pronounced “Wee-sen”) exploders newly placed over the summer are his responsibility. These newest installments are designed to “modernize our program and reduce our reliance on military artillery and eliminate firing over occupied residences.”
Stretching from Toledo Peak to Davenport Hill along Emma Ridge they’re strategically positioned to accomplish avalanche control with less risk to humans. Fired by remote, they will largely eliminate the need for artillery and human “bomb” tossing. The new Wyssen models are an update from the earlier Gasex and Obelix models in place on Powder Ridge and Hellgate and reduce the amount of logistics and on mountain maintenance necessary to operate over each ski season.
“They really provide greater flexibility and creativity by allowing us to work at different times and with shorter closures. This allows more access to out of bounds terrain in the canyon,” said Damian, who’s served in his capacity as director for three years but worked for UDOT for eight.
When your correspondent asked how he liked being in charge of one of the most complicated highways for avalanche mitigation he smiled. “It’s a great job watching avalanches but exceptionally challenging. When it’s at its peak, it’s fast paced.” An understatement no doubt given that two of the world’s premier ski resorts rely on him for opening.
It’s clear the state will continue to make investments in new technology to more safely manage the increased backcountry ski traffic. There’s no doubt that installation of more exploders will continue, thanks in great part to the advances coming out of Europe in the form of technology such as Wyssen. There’s also no doubt in this skier’s mind that the state and canyon have picked the right person to announce, “Fire in the hole!”