The world of skiing in South America is about to change for the better. Argentine ski resort, Cerro Catedral has just announced the successful installation of its first Avalauncher (View their post translated to English). This powerful snow safety tool will allow the ski patrol at Catedral-Alta Patagonia to perform avalanche control work around the Nubes area. Steep alpine slopes with high elevation Northeast through Southeast facing starting zones characterize the terrain surrounding the Nubes chair. The use of an avalauncher, built by Avalanche Mitigation Services in the United States, keeps patrollers off the slope and enables them to create many smaller avalanches from a safe distance. These measures ensure that the slopes never develop enough of a slab to create monster avalanches later on that could potentially destroy property or injure skiers. It will also play a huge role in keeping the upper mountain open after a sizable storm, which means more powder skiing for everyone.
A bit of history on the avalauncher:
Avalanche hunters of the 1960’s were looking for a way to mitigate the ever-present danger of snow slides in and around ski areas. The destructive forces of avalanches were well known by then, and there needed to be a way to bring them down from a safe distance. Artillery was already being employed at this time, thanks to the hard work of a man named Monty Atwater. His position as a snow ranger at Alta Ski Area in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, USA kept him in a constant battle with the snowy torrents. The use of artillery was effective, but also very expensive. It could also only be used on long distance targets (greater than 1000 meters away). The development of an air powered weapon that was capable of launching a 2Lb (4KG) explosive projectile promised to solve that problem. Atwater became aware of a pneumatic baseball-pitching machine for Major League Baseball and contacted its inventor, Frank Parsoneault. Under further direction from Atwater, Parsoneault began creating prototypes of what was soon deemed the Avalauncher. It has also lived under the name of the “Soup Gun” because its original projectiles were tin soup cans filled with explosives. After some unsuccessful attempts and thousands of cans of soup, the creators finally realized that a stabilized canister was necessary for controlled shooting. The accuracy of the avalauncher improved with the implementation of fin-stabilized rounds, and distance started approaching 1000 feet. After the prototypes proved their effectiveness, the proliferation of the avalauncher began across North America. The compressed nitrogen-powered device is now used in many countries throughout the world and has become a valuable item in the avalanche hunter’s arsenal.
Additional Information: Evolution of the Avalauncher by John Brennan
The acquisition of this device marks a sea change for the resort community of Patagonia. It also illustrates the resort’s commitment to a comprehensive snow safety plan. The ability to keep terrain open and safe is a critical job of the ski patrol and it will translate into economic benefits for Cerro Catedral. We look forward to meeting up with the patrollers this winter to see them fire this machine and slay the white dragons that lurk in the mountainous terrain of the Southern Andes.