Recently, the Colorado Department of Transporation (CDOT) has been installing Gazex automatic avalanche mitigation systems at avalanche-prone areas around the state. The Chafee County Times is reporting that even more plans have been announced to install more of these structures along US-50 near Monarch Pass. These remote-controlled structures are called Gazex Avalanche-Control systems and are produced by the TAS organization.
The Gazex system works through the use of remotely controlled gas-fueled shockwaves, completely avoiding the use of traditional explosives, which are known to be expensive and risky. According to the manufacturer, an oxygen/propane mix is ignited and the resulting shockwave is channeled through an exploder tube. These shockwaves are directed towards avalanche-prone slopes, where they disturb unstable snow into a controlled slide.
Using a remotely controlled pressure system is inherently safer than using hand-held explosives, cheaper than using a howitzer, and the automated system ensures that the weather won’t impact CDOT’s ability to control slides. CDOT reports decreases in road closures and delays since the Gazex installations began. The next installations will take-place over the next several months, primarily around the Monarch Ski Area.
However, the Gazex system hasn’t always been welcomed. After a string of massive winters, the Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows ski resort in California expanded their use of Gazex systems around the mountain, and now has the most of any ski resort in North & South America. Local residents have expressed concern about these installations, stating that the blasts are disruptive. The concussive explosions can reach unsafe noise levels of up to 125 decibels (near the source) and can cause potentially structure-damaging vibrations. However, it’s worth noting the ethical concerns of having a Ski Patroller perform dangerous avalanche-mitigation duties when a safer and automated alternative exists.