As another winter season begins, it’s of no surprise the residents of North Lake Tahoe are in dispute with the newly formed owners of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Alterra Mountain Co. This time concerning the use of newly installed Gazex remote avalanche control systems along the Alpine Meadows entry road. Members of the community have expressed concerns about the noise of the blast and subsequent vibrations, loss in property damage, and the well being of residents.
Previous to the 2017-18 season Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows invested $4 million in the resorts snow safety program, which included the installation of 13 Gazex systems. Developed by the French company TAS Natural Hazards Control Solutions, the Gazex remotely explodes an oxygen/propane gas mixture above the snow surface creating a concussive blast to trigger avalanches. In 2015 Squaw Alpine became the first California resort to install the technology and the installation of the new Gazex creates the largest operating system at any resort in North and South America.
“This is a big advantage on Alpine Meadows Road, too. We can set them off routinely as the snow piles up, during times when our guys and gals can’t access those areas safely. We’ll be able to maintain access on Alpine Meadows Road more safely and efficiently” said Ken Bokelund, Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol Director – Sierra Sun
Residents along the Alpine Meadows road are upset with the resorts lack of research regarding the vibrations, the proximity of the explosions to homes, and chiefly the noise that can deliver a blast of 125-decibels. Think front row at a rock concert according to the scientist at decibelcar.com. To express these concerns members of the community recently gathered in Tahoe City to meet with Squaw Alpine President and COO, Ron Cohen. Here residents brought up the issue of long-term effects to the homes and structures along the road and many stated they do not want the resort operating the lower four Gazex structures, which have yet to be used, after hearing the upper four higher along the ridge used this past season.
“Living at Alpine on a storm day is like waking up in a world war. The whole place shakes and rumbles,” said Jed Kravitz, Alpine Meadows resident.
You cannot blame the resort for its want to create a safer working environment for its ski patrollers after a slew of injuries and deaths have hit the local community in recent years due to avalanche control work. Previously to the Gazex system and still used widely today ski patrollers will carry and detonate powerful hand charges of TNT and PETN around the resort to control the snow. This job is a complicated dance between mitigating the natural dangers of the mountains and satisfying the desires of skiers, and a fatality to a patroller effects more than just the resort but the entire community.
The use of remotely controlled Gazex systems promises to keep patrollers out of harm’s way and to help speed up the mountains opening times on snowy days which have been criticized in recent years. Is this worth the possible reduction of quality of life and sanity for the residents of Alpine Meadows? Members of the community are on both sides of the aisle.
“If it’s safer for the patrollers then I guess that’s a definite plus. Also if they can open up zones quicker because of the remote Gazex then I’m for that.” – Kravitz
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has stated it plans on using the Gazex machines this 2018-2019 season, but is open to other solutions moving forward.