Aliens at Alta? Nope, Just the Latest Avalanche Mitigation Technology

Brent Thomas | | AvalancheAvalancheIndustry NewsIndustry News
alien
The O’Bellx. Credit: alta.com

With an average of 540 inches of the best snow on earth every year, Alta Ski Area constantly has avalanche mitigation on its mind. Now they are adopting the latest technology in avalanche safety and prevention.

Alien-looking pods, called O’Bellx, are being installed on the mountain to be integrated into Alta’s network of avalanche control systems. They are a new form of Remote Avalanche Control Systems (RACS) that are meant to complement the more familiar TNT and Howitzer artillery commonly used for avalanche control.

The RACS have been used around mountain pass highways and remote backcountry zones in other areas where traditional forms of avalanche mitigation are harder to implement. Now Alta is bringing it inside the resort. 

How they work is a permanent foot bracket is installed on the mountain at the top of an avalanche start zone that will hold the module. Then the O’Bellx pod is armed with hydrogen and oxygen and flown via helicopter to rest in the foot bracket. The pod then mixes the elements in small pinpoint explosions to create intentional avalanches. The device is controlled remotely and has the capacity to fire 30-35 shots before it will need to be refueled. At that point, a helicopter will fly the unit back to a refueling area before flying it back up to its foot bracket. 

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Each foot bracket weighs 1,000 pounds and the pods weigh 1,200 pounds. Credit: alta.com

The advantages of the O’Bellx are numerous. Ski patrol does not have to be actively involved, so it reduces how often they are handling explosives or firing Howitzers. They can be triggered at any time, no matter the weather conditions, and can be relocated in the summer for storage.

Usually, the sound of explosions on a powder morning brings excitement for riders. Now, although you may not hear it, the O’Bellx could have been working around the clock to get your favorite terrain open a little sooner.

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Little Cottonwood Canyon has the highest unmitigated avalanche danger in North America with 64 slide zones. Credit: skitheworld.com

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