Vast differences in the process of avalanche control

Ski blogger Sam Lozier is spending a chunk of this winter in Kashmir, India at Gulmarg.

 

Two days ago, I witnessed the biggest avalanche I’ve ever seen in my life.

 

After two cloudy storm days, the skies finally cleared and the Gulmarg ski patrol, headed by Brian, a former patroller at Snowbird, could finally get to work making the mountain safe. At a typical Western North American resort, avalanche control is conducted by a large team of ski patrollers using a combination of cannons, hand charges, and a number of other tools. To whatever extent possible, the Gulmarg ski patrol emulates the process, but they are limited significantly by three factors.

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The first is that, to my knowledge, there are only two Western-trained avalanche experts on the Gulmarg ski patrol, and this means that it isn’t possible to have a large team setting off charges in multiple locations at once. That control work takes longer than it normally would.

 

Second, in order to get in place to do the control work, the patrol has to wait on the gondola to open; there isn’t a work road to the top of the mountain, so they can’t take a snowmobile up. The gondola operators are rather conservative about opening the gondola, meaning that a mild amount of wind or fog, much less a full-on storm, will prevent control work from being done during the storm.

 

Finally, also unlike a Western resort, where the patrol can store its own explosives, at Gulmarg, the military has deemed the region is too sensitive to leave the explosives in an area where they could potentially be taken by those who would do harm to India. So the explosives take a rather long path to their final destination in a slide. First, during a storm, Brian will put in an order for   explosives with the military. Then, when the lift (another organization) finally opens, the Indian military carries the explosives by hand by to the top of the gondola, where both the military and Brian build the charges together. Brian can then finally set off with his team to do control work.

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So, unlike your typical Western ski resort, where control work is done by a large team, at Gulmarg, a lot of stars have to align to get things done. This is bad in the sense that it is highly unlikely that you’ll get on the mountain bright and early after a storm, but good in that you are a lot more likely to witness an amazing show on the first clear day after a storm.

 

I was lucky enough to be on hand during the control work for the last storm and was able to take these pictures of the process.

 

Here is the army delivering the explosives to the bottom of the lift:

 

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The slope before control work:

 

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During the one big slide of the day (note size of lift for scale):

 

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The aftermath:

 

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Read and see more of Sam’s work at www.famousinternetskiers.com.

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