With $4 Million in New Snow Safety Tools & Technology,
Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows Prepares for 2017-18 Season and Beyond
• Astar 350 B3 helicopter, four new avalaunchers and 13 more Gazex “Dragon” installations have been ordered to assist with avalanche control
• Special training for mountain operations leaders with former leaders from every level of our nation’s elite special operations units
[Olympic Valley, Calif.] Oct. 5, 2017 – Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has invested $4 million in its snow safety program in a continued commitment to the efficiency of mountain operations and the safety of guests and staff. New to the resort, an Astar 350 B3 helicopter will be on site for a portion of the season and four new avalaunchers will enhance avalanche control abilities. The Gazex avalanche mitigation system, a network of large pipes known as “Dragons,” will nearly triple in size and will also include eight new Dragons for avalanche control on Alpine Meadows Road. Recognizing that cooperation across the larger Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows team is equally critical to getting the mountain open, the resort has engaged the Karakoram Group, comprised of former leaders from every level of our nation’s elite special operations units. The Karakoram Group has been conducting special training throughout the summer with leaders from the lift operations, lift maintenance, grooming, ski patrol and snowmaking departments at both mountains.
“When it’s all said and done, all these tools support us in being safe and efficient in what we do,” said Ken Bokelund, Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol director. “We’re here to get the mountain open. That’s what we live for and we want to do it as safely and efficiently as possible. I’m really excited coming into the season with what we have available to us.”
“Last season was a real challenge for us; we learned a lot” said Will Paden, Squaw Valley Ski Patrol director. “We received 728 inches during the season, and a lot of that came in January and February, so we got a big, heavy punch. We did 56 days of avalanche control, which averages out to something like one out of every three days we showed up to work. For the newer folks on the patrol last year, just the sheer amount of avalanche control was a real learning experience for them.”
The new snow safety tools will be utilized by professional ski patrol teams at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows with more than a millennium of combined experience, supported by the efforts of over 2,600 employees, the largest team in the resort’s history.
Snow Safety Helicopter
In a continuous effort to advance snow safety technology and techniques, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows will introduce a new tool to its fleet: an Astar 350 B3 helicopter which will be parked, on standby, in the Squaw Valley parking lot for a portion of the season. The helicopter will to be used for avalanche control at both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows after major snow cycles, when weather and visibility allow. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is the only resort in California using a helicopter as part of their snow safety program, while a select few other resorts across North America successfully utilize helicopters for snow safety.
“The helicopter enables us to assess snow conditions around the mountain, using test explosives, in under 30 minutes. We can use it to drop explosives onto the terrain below and transport our teams up onto the mountain to complete their avalanche control routes on the ground,” said Will Paden, Squaw Valley Ski Patrol director. “We’re approaching it with an open mind. We know it’s windy here and weather will be the limiting factor for flying this thing, but there are those days when it goes blue and there's no wind. This is one more tool to help us open the mountain.”
Thirteen New Gazex aka “Dragons”
Called Dragons because of their fiery blast, these remotely controlled avalanche mitigation systems use propane gas and oxygen to create a concussive blast to remotely trigger avalanches when staff and skiers are not in the area. The technology provides an additional level of safety to ski patrol teams and greater efficiency as they work to open up the mountains. In 2015, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows became the first and only California ski resort to install this technology and has been expanding its use annually since.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has ordered 13 new Dragons for the 2017-18 season, including eight for the ridge above Alpine Meadows Road and five within the boundaries of the resort. With 10 total on-mountain Dragons and five control shelters, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows will have the largest system in use at any ski resort in North and South America. The five new Dragons will include one each on High Yellow Gully and Pete’s Peril at Alpine Meadows as well as two on Red Dog Ridge and one on The Roof (on Emigrant Peak between the Attic and the Funnel) at Squaw Valley. These will join five existing installations: three at Squaw Valley located on Headwall Face, Gold Coast Ridge and Mainline Pocket and two at Alpine Meadows located at South Peril and High Yellow.
“What's great about the Dragons is we can set them off at any time. So we don't have to wait for light, we can do it in the middle of the night. Groomers can keep grooming safely at night and help keep work roads open so the rest of the team can access the mountain too,” said Ken Bokelund, Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol director. “This is a big advantage on Alpine Meadows Road, too. We can set them off routinely as the snow piles up, during times when our guys and gals can’t access those areas safely. We’ll be able to maintain access on Alpine Meadows Road more safely and efficiently: it’s exciting for our guests and staff, and our neighbors.”
“Generally speaking we try to place the Dragons in good spots for worker safety, but also for operational efficiency. Meaning that we want to protect our patrollers that are going onto those slopes on skis, but we also want to be able to keep the travel routes open,” said Will Paden, Squaw Valley Ski Patrol director.
Four New Avalaunchers
Avalaunchers are compressed-nitrogen cannons that fire an explosive projectile, similar in concept to a potato gun. Four new avalaunchers, two each at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, will enable ski patrol to trigger avalanches from a distance and control the snow pack prior to opening terrain to the public. Alpine Meadows has traditionally used avalaunchers for snow safety, while Squaw Valley will be reintroducing them, as the mountain has not used avalauchers for many years.
“We've seen how they've worked at Alpine, and we're sold on it. The technology has really come a long way,” said Will Paden, Squaw Valley Ski Patrol director. “So we've got one that's going be on a fixed-mount platform in the Lost Lake area, which is the bottom of the Cornice 2 area. We'll be able to control Cornice 2, the Slot, Saddle Road and the Rock Garden, and potentially Tower 16 with that fixed-mount. But we also have a mobile unit we're going to be able to move around with a snow cat, and drive into position to control places like the Funnel, North Bowl, the Oregon Trail, and some spots on KT-22 when the storm's really going. I think for us it's going to be a very defensive tool, meaning that during big storms well be able to shoot it late in the day to mitigate for the safety of our patrollers so the next day when they go in, we've already done control work on there.”
Working Together Across Mountains: Special Training and the Largest Team Ever
Ski patrol is just one of the interdependent teams that work to get the mountain open each day: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows employs over 2,600 staff, the largest team in the resort’s history. Heading into the 2017-18 season, leaders from across mountain operations departments at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have been engaging in dedicated leadership cross-training with Karakoram Group, which uses a background in elite military training to develop high-performing teams. Leaders from the lift operations, lift maintenance, grooming, ski patrol and snowmaking departments at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows have been working with Karakoram Group throughout the summer and into the winter season to identify ways in which they can optimize their operations and develop culture and collaboration across teams.
“The mountain operations mindset is similar to that of a Navy Seal: high-adrenaline and self-challenging. They work in a complex and challenging environment, from lift maintenance hammering rime ice off lift towers, to groomers winching their cats up terrifically steep slopes, to ski patrol hiking along ridgelines to perform snow control. They are passionate about what they do and they hold themselves and their teams accountable,” Dave Cooper, founder, chief strategy officer and chief of operations for Karakoram Group.
California/Nevada Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Spends $4 Million in New Snow Safety Tools & Technology,
- alpine meadows
- alpine meadows ski patrol director
- astar 350 b3 helicopter
- avalanche control
- gazex “dragon” installations
- karakoram group
- ken bokelund
- olympic valley california
- ski patrol
- snow safety at squaw valley
- snow safety tools and technology
- squaw valley alpine meadows investment
- squaw valley usa
I posted this in another thread but I think it's appropriate to double up.
Quite the system in place. One of the things about patrolling here in the SE is that we have almost zero avalanche issues. To be perfectly honest I'm not sure I'd be patrolling if I lived out west. I've done the classes and I've gotten the certifications and I can do the skiing but it's a whole different animal there.
When I moved west the image of ski patrol (for me) changed to Bad Ass Mountaineers who risk their lives to keep the terrain safe for us. ....and they still treat injuries.
I'm happy to see the improvements Squaw is implementing. Last year they did a terrible job of getting the mountain open. Actually, the worst in my 40 years of skiing there. The days I saw the delays were nowhere near the biggest or worst snow days. The season was huge but the individual days were normal dumps. Something was different in management.
Patrol has the final say. If their mission changed from opening the mountain and assisting skiers to preventing injuries, then I'm bummed. Skiing is not a 100% safe sport. The only way to make it 100% safe is to close the mountain. Squaw seemed to take that approach last season.
Squaw has a unique mountain. The lower mountain is well protected from wind in the worst storms. They have been safely spinning those lifts in big storms for years. Unloading was a challenge requiring skier skills and it could be uncomfortable but drop in to the runs and you were OK. Wind holds were rare.
The lower mountain is relatively small compared to all of Squaw. Concentrating the staff on this area makes it reasonable to prepare it on challenging days - as long as there is adequate staff. (Why was patrol digging out KT by hand when we saw a bunch of lifties standing around waiting?)
Squaw did a great job creating tree runs. There are many new tree route options for those low visibility times. So why were there so many more visibility holds last winter?
I'd like to see a condition board with some teeth. Warn the intermediate skiers of the dangers. Maybe sign a release at the lift on the sketchy days. Put some of the decision responsibility on the skiers. Note that we make those choices every time we look over into a challenging pitch. It could work.
I'm happy to see the hardware changes. More tools might allow the CYA checklist items to be addressed quicker and better. I hope the safety philosophy works better now and the mountain works in storms as well as it did in the past (excluding last season).
And it doesn't have to be the biggest or worst snow day to be the most difficult to mitigate.
Sugar Bowl doesn't have the weather protection of Squaw so they are usually quite worse about opening. I didn't hear much of that this year - but reality might be different from my perception.
Northstar and Kirkwood are Vail resorts. Corporate risk aversion? Along with Squaw?
Weather was unusual last year for sure. With that weather I expected that the powder skiing would be exceptional. My personal powder days /runs were average at best. And the frustration level was very high. Doesn't help if all the resorts are doing it.
Few seasons back when I was wintering in Taos. Before the Kachina Peak chair. I was doing a ski week with my best friend from college. After a big dump on Tuesday Couple of the other skiers in my group were bitching about how patrol haven't opened Kachina peak on Wednesday. Neither the instructor nor any of the regulars in the group said anything. On our ride up chair 4 on Thursday morning, we can see a slide had happened overnight through both the K3 & K4 chute. The bottom of the slide was within 100 feet of the lift shack at the top of chair 4. I turn to the two guys that was bitching the day before and said "Shudda done K4 yesterday before it slid." Needless to say, they didn't talk to me for the rest of the week. Not a bad thing, in my opinion.
I try real hard not to second guess patrol when it comes to closures. I rather do my après at the local watering hole rather than the ICU or worse, the local morgue.
There will always another powder day - if you are alive.
Kirkwood had the road closed due to too much snow. Employees who lived on site were busting their asses to dig out and get things ready to go when the road opened up. Several patrollers weren't able to get to the mountain until after the road opened up and were doing their best to handle avalanche mitigation.
Northstar couldn't get the backside chair open on several occasions because it was literally buried and the short staff was busting ass to dig out, hoping that they could keep the front side and Lookout open. Several times they were unable to open the Poma so we couldn't' access the Lookout side without taking the long route via Bypass, which was often snow-covered and difficult to manage, even after the groomers cleared the path....because it filled in.
Those are days when I would login here and see complaints about Squaw and Alpine.
Everyone was short staffed, and the staff that was on hand was working unimaginable hours trying to get things open so that people like you could get out on the slopes.
Criticizing patrol's decisions is not popular. But when a fantastic snow year turns into a crap powder ski experience something is wrong. And blaming too much snow at a ski resort stinks.
Squaw has so many lifts, acreage and support staff that excuses about staffing are very weak. Management schedules the workforce. Lots of personnel
are within walking distance. It's a decision not a weather event. It's a SNOW ski resort, make it work.
I love Squaw. Please take any criticism as a hope for a better mountain experience.
The gazex on Headwall was completely buried when I saw it. I hope the new ones work to expectations.
White camo paint job on the helicopter? To make it harder to find if it has to set down somewhere in the mountain with a mechanical problem? The helicopters I've seen in Austria, Italy, & Switzerland are yellow or red. https://www.zermatt.ch/en/Media/Attractions/Air-Zermatt
(Trivia...the red & white & star pattern on the Air Zermatt craft mimics the Valais Canton flag.)
I used to ski at a good sized local place in this region where management was so cheap that on busy days they didn't have enough sleds to get the injured off the mountain, nor enough pro or volunteer patrollers to handle the injuries and patrol the boneheaded skiers who needed their ticket pulled.