With little fanfare, Gazex avalanche control equipment arrived in the Alpine Meadows parking lot recently. Several readers sent photos, and questions about where it was headed. Although the Base To Base Gondola proposal includes the installation of 8 Gazex exploders near the proposed lift, the environmental review process for that project is not completed yet. So if you’ve been in the group wondering if they are already starting that project, that answer is no.
This morning we did a bit of sleuthing around the Placer County building permit database, which has limited public access. There we found that grading permits have been issued for two different Gazex installations at Alpine Meadows. The permits were issued at the end of May, so one would assume the work will be done this summer, especially with the equipment already sitting in the Subway parking lot.
One installation is destined for Peril Ridge, and the second is destined for High Yellow. The exact locations of the exploders is not detailed online and public users do not get access to the map part of the permit. So it looks like it’s time to go for a hike. Send pictures if you do.
A photo of a typical Gazex installation. image via squawalpinegondola-eis.com
One thing is for sure, both of those areas are important to patrollers as they must be cleared before Summit or ABC can run. That means in a big storm cycle, patrollers are required to spend the night at the top of Summit to clear those paths so more patrollers can get up the mountain. The Gazex system allows patrollers to remotely set off a controlled propane explosion rather than sending them out into the early morning light with hand charges.
The recent comments on the proposed Base To Base Gondola project did include a lot of commentary on the inclusion of 8 Gazex exploders to protect the gondola. Questions were raised about the potential for fire danger with propane caches located on the mountain and about the visual blight caused by the exploders and associated utility sheds. The jury is out on exactly where these exploders will be located and their visual impact. Ultimately, if this is something that leads to more patroller safety and faster mountain openings, it’s a good thing.
Gazex systems have been used in Europe for several years now, and slowly started appearing in US ski areas within the last few years. Squaw Valley installed it’s first Gazex exploder near Headwall for last season. Reportedly it was used more than 10 times during the season. Squaw Valley will also be installing 2 new exploders above the top terminal of the Gold Coast lift for next season.