Chemistry: The Not-Quite-As-Big Bang

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

News from the Field, December 1996

Chemistry: The Not-Quite-As-Big Bang

Shredding’s volitile new form of avalanche control
By Hal Clifford

When Doug Abromeit, director of the Forest Service’s National Avalanche Center, recently spied two teenage snowboarders in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, he felt compelled to warn them about the avalanche danger that day. “Not to worry, dude,” they replied. “We’ve got dry-ice bombs.”

Over the past few years, snowboarders have increasingly been heading into the powder-packed backcountry–and some are taking avalanche control into their own hands. Their recipe? To a one-liter plastic bottle, add dry ice. Then, at the top of the offending chute, urinate into the bottle. Screw on the cap, toss the mixture into the snow, and kaboom, safe to shred.

Or not: According to Abromeit, these homespun devices lack the oomph to trigger a full-blown avalanche–which leaves him worried that riders are dropping in with a false sense of security. Even worse, he says, is what may happen when they learn that their ordnance isn’t cutting it. “I’ve heard rumors that kids are using dynamite,” Abromeit laments. “We’d definitely have to arrest them for that.”

promo logo