Bombs over Beaver Creek
BEAVER CREEK – The shockwave unleashed by the explosive caromed into the patrollers, blasted into their chests and shook the ground below.A head-splitting boom echoed through the woods. Chunks of snow mixed with twigs erupted into the sky.
“Everybody likes to blow stuff up,” said Barrett Langendoerfer, head of snow safety.His partner, Bryce Hayes, lit a two-pound bomb and underhanded it downhill, Langendoerfer counted the 2 minutes and 25 seconds before detonation. With two minutes left, everyone covered their ears in anticipation. Like waiting for a toaster to spit out a slice of bread, no one knows when it’s coming.And then a boom shatters the snowy silence and ricochets off the far ridge. All these explosions are meant to move loose snow that’s threatening to build into an avalanche that could endanger skiers. The bombs are made by the patrollers inside thick metal safes. They assemble one-, two- and three-pound charges out of TNT and Pentaerythritoltetranitrate (PETN).Detonating explosives is exciting on one hand, but patrollers could lose the other if they aren’t careful. “We’re not cowboys out there hucking explosives,” Langendoerfer said. “Safety is definitely our No. 1 priority.”
Safety means training and help from other patrollers, Langendoerfer said.Sometimes, the patrollers use several charges to clear a slope, but it’s most satisfying when one blast gets a six- to eight-foot slab of snow to crack off, Langendoerfer said.”It’s kind of neat to set something off and it goes big,” Langendoerfer said.Snow build upHeavy snow and snow piled up by winds, along with the steepness of a slope, can all cause avalanches. If Beaver Creek gets blasted by snow, patrollers blast back during the early morning at the mountain’s most avalanche-prone areas, including Royal Elk Glade, Wild Turkey Ridge and Stone Creek, which is opening to the public next season.
Still, some areas not reached might slide.”We can’t get every nook and cranny, but we try,” Langendoerfer said. Blowing stuff up isn’t the only method to start an avalanche. When “ski cutting,” Langendoerfer skis across a hill to fracture snow and cause it to slide away. All the while, Langendoerfer watches the snow slide safely below him.”At Beaver Creek there’s a lot of stuff we can just ski cut,” Langendoerfer said.Patrollers can also compact snow with their boots to prevent slides. Skiers and snowboarders riding early in the season also helps stabilize slopes.
========To check out weather and avalanche activity, call Beaver Creek at 845-6652.========Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado