Canadian resorts that run major avalanche control programs are required to manage their explosives. Most do the daily tracking laboriously by hand, tallying records of storage and use for federal government inspectors. This summer, Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort became the first ski area in Canada to monitor explosives electronically. The resort now uses the Field ID, tracking their avalanche explosives with mobile devices and electronic bar codes.
Sunshine Village, which straddles 9,000-foot peaks on the Continental Divide in Banff National Park, contains abundant above-treeline slopes that require avalanche control throughout the season. To lessen the avalanche risk, the resort relies on explosives stored in remote locations around the ski area and monitored daily. The new Field ID converts the daily recording from pen and paper to electronic scanning and data, a faster and greener method to record-keeping.
"The Field ID brings us from paper copy to electronic data recording," Mountain Manager Al Matheson said. "It's a behind-the-scenes thing that affords a certain amount of transparency with our regulators."
Sunshine Village's explosives are necessary for winter avalanche control work.
"Several spots require active avalanche control," Matheson said. "Places such as the Dive, on the shoulder around Tee Pee Town, and on Goat's Eye around the south side chutes and Wild West. Even smaller pitches on Standish and Wawa."
Parks Canada used to perform the control work, but the resort took over avalanche control in the late 1980s. Today, the resort's avalanche crew consists of six to eight snow safety experts who train and specialize in the avalanche work. Others on ski patrol learn avalanche control through mentorship.
The snow safety crew deploys explosives for avalanche control at Sunshine Village. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Village.
Snow safety crews hit the slopes early every day to reduce the risk of inbounds avalanches.
"We use hand-deployed explosives and an avalauncher," Matheson said. "On big snow cycles with a big area to cover, we'll use a helicopter. Sometimes, we'll deploy explosives on fixed cable systems, dangling shots in the air above a slope. We like to be sure things are tight before throwing hand charges to avoid putting the crew at risk."
Not all slopes require the use of explosives for avalanche control. Ski cutting can mitigate avalanches, too.
"We do the smaller pitches on Standish and Wawa by ski cutting," Matheson said.
For Sunshine Village, avalanche control work will start with the first snows, which usually arrive in late October or early November.
"We focus in early season on ski packing and boot packing, hammering the snow down to make a strong base," Matheson said. "The Rocky Mountain snow pack is such that you need to have your head in the snow for the entire season."