Telluride’s avalanche-battling arsenal: WWII cannons, 3D mapping and discipline
MOUNTAIN VILLAGE — Taj Simon is charging up the narrow, windswept ridge. “Come on dad. Let’s go!” he yells to his father, Garrett, who is carrying the 7-year-old’s skis.
The valley locals are atop Black Iron Bowl, a steep basin below Telluride’s Palmyra Peak, a good 20-minute hike up from the top of the Prospect chairlift. Below them spills a bounty of steep powder, lined with rocky chutes.
In a backcountry scenario, the terrain would trigger some serious scrutiny, especially in this exceptionally active avalanche season. But this is Telluride’s famous hike-to inbounds terrain and ski patrollers for weeks have been shelling the bowl and the peak above it with a barrage of explosives, including mortars fired from Colorado skiing’s only World War II cannons.
“They’ve been howitzering the heck out of this in the last month. I have a high level of confidence in the snow here,” Simon says, shortly before chasing his beyond-expert son into the downy fluff, leaving wispy trails of cold smoke billowing around their knees. “I have 100 percent confidence in our ski patrol and maybe then some.”
The steepest ski areas in Colorado — Silverton Mountain, Crested Butte, Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Highlands and Telluride — deploy a wide array of strategies when it comes to reducing the risk of avalanches on inbounds terrain. Telluride stands out with a customized snow-compaction rolling machine, avalanche dogs trained to find buried people, a helicopter, Avalaunchers and a pair of howitzers, giving the steep-and-deep ski area one of the largest and most diverse tool boxes in all of North American skiing when it comes to mitigating avalanche hazards.
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