Things That Go Boom

Some of the explosives that professionals use to take down the white dragon.

Sep 22, 2014
Outside Magazine
Little Cottonwood Canyon Skiing Utah Wasatch Mountains Winter avalanches careers cloudy control work december outdoors outside patrolers profession professionals safety ski resort snow patrol snow safety snowbird work

The hand charge in action. Control work in Snowbird can be loud.    Photo: Louis Arevalo

If shovels, beacons, and probes are Avalanche Safety 101, the explosive, noisy techniques that resorts use to manage avalanches are for the expert-only classes.


What It Is: A compressed-nitrogen cannon that fires an explosive projectile. Avalaunchers are typically mounted on towers, with preset gas pressure and target coordinates, which means they can be fired accurately in whiteout conditions.
Where It’s Used: Resorts across the western U.S.

Hand Charge

What It Is: Usually stick dynamite with a long fuse for safety. Hand charges are usually tossed by ski patrollers from ridges into avalanche zones.
Where It’s Used: 
All ski resorts.


What It Is: Artillery on loan from the Army. A howitzer is more accurate than an Avalauncher over long distances, and when the shell explodes, it produces a blast wave that travels through the air and into the snow, making it effective over large areas.
Where It’s Used: 
A few resorts and transportation departments across the western U.S.

Gazex Exploder

What It Is: A massive elephant-trunk-shaped device installed in a known slide path. Press a button and a mix of propane and oxygen shoots from the trunk, setting off the slope below.
Where It’s Used: Worldwide, including the Sochi Olympics and, starting this winter, Colorado’s Berthoud Pass.

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