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Why Crystal Mountain Needs Gazex

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Events and Activities

First a Little History

One of the perks of managing a ski area is that it gives my husband and I an excuse to go on ski vacations. Why? To check out the competition, of course! (Because what’s better than seeing someone else’s sagging rope lines and knowing that it’s not your job to stop and fix it?) If you’ve ever worked as a ski patroller than you know what I’m talking about.

Gazex 2 and 3 in Powder Bowl

A few years ago, John and I visited the Les 3 Vallées in France. One of the largest skiing complexes in the world consisting of eight interconnecting resorts, Les 3 Vallées has no less than 258 Gazex Exploders. Skiing and riding in Europe is a little different than in the States. The Piste Services, which includes the ski patrol (Sécurite dé Pistes) and the cat crew, only manage the actual “pistes.” In Europe a piste is equivalent to a named (and often groomed) run. So imagine if at Crystal we only did avalanche control on named runs or the slopes that overhung named runs. Also picture if we only put out hazard markings and tower pads and caution signs on the groomed runs. Furthermore, imagine that the ski patrol only provided free first aid to those injured on the groomers. Elsewhere, you have to call for your own helicopter and/or pay extra for assistance.

In Les 3 Vallées, Piste Services focus their efforts on the pistes. However, since so much of these slopes are threatened from above by avalanche terrain, skiers also benefit from their extensive use of Gazex exploders. The off-piste in Les 3 Vallées is steep and challenging and very often blasted for avalanche mitigation.

When John and I visited Les 3 Vallées a former Crystal exchange patroller Klébert Silvestre ran the Piste Services in Val Thorens, one of the interconnected resorts there. Klébert was kind enough to show us around. John was most impressed by the Gazex exploders. Gazex is certainly expensive and a little obtrusive, and I wasn’t convinced these would work at Crystal.

The Problem of Powder Bowl

Crystal Local Nala Checks out Gazex 2

Powder Bowl is a steep bowl that overhangs a groomed run at Crystal. Snowcats use that run to access the upper mountain at night. Skiers and riders use the cat track below to access some of Crystal’s best terrain, including Lucky Shot and Bear Pits. After our trip to Les 3 Vallées John wanted to implement Gazex in Powder Bowl. Triggered remotely, exploders can mitigate avalanches even when the winds are too high to run the chairlift. Once I looked at Powder Bowl through his eyes, I understood his concern.

On a powder day at Crystal, we pride ourselves on opening the upper mountain (what we call our “in-area” terrain) by 9 am. While that’s not always possible, most mornings skiers and riders are enjoying fresh turns as soon as the lifts begin to spin. Many ski resorts with similar avalanche terrain suffer from chronic late openings of the best terrain. In the PNW, when a slight warmup can worsen the avalanche hazard, we want to get folks skiing and riding (and putting tracks in) that terrain ASAP. Even a slight delay can cause problems. The longer a slope sits unridden after we’ve thrown our explosives, the frownier we patrollers become.

Enter Gazex

This summer crews are installing three Gazex exploders (no, they are not called “boomers” or “pipes” or even really big “jibs”), in Powder Bowl. They will be called Gazex 1, 2, and 3. How’s that for originality? The first one is located in the Summit Chute and the other two are located to the skier’s left. In placing these exploders, we considered many factors. Most importantly, we placed them in the most effective avalanche starting zones. Since these exploders cannot be moved, we want to get the most “bang for the buck.” Also, we considered the traverse path to the left most chutes. These exploder locations are below that traverse, so they shouldn’t get in the way.

But Can I Jump off of it?

Funny thing how you build a big curving metal structure on a ski slope and the first question you get is, “can I jump it?” I suppose that’s possible. Just like jibbing off a chairlift tower is theoretically possible. The top of the structure isn’t exactly smooth. It contains ribs and tubes and various attachment points. So a clean rail slide probably isn’t going to happen. And then there’s the problem of the landing. These exploders are pretty far off the ground. With a little snow on the slope, they might feel a bit lower, but off course these exploders are there to blast the snow off the slope, so not sure how much snow will accumulate right below them. In short, I wouldn’t set my sites on jumping off these bad boys. It might be exciting to think about, but the logistics are pretty daunting.

Pretty Sketchy Landing on Gazex 2

What Next?

If Gazex in Powder Bowl works as well as we anticipate, our next exploder location will be Rock Face. Since Rock Face is permanently closed, it never gets any skier compaction. In the spring, the entire slope has ripped to the ground. Rock Face also hangs over a cat track. Skiers and riders might have noticed in the past few years seeing the “No stopping beyond this point” signs. That’s pretty sage advice.

Gazex will never replace explosive hand routes at Crystal (phew!). We have too many small pockets. Our mandate in the States is to manage all the terrain, not just the pistes. Therefore we will always need ski patrollers to help mitigate the slopes. But Gazex has it’s place, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works this season.

Now let’s all pray to Ullr that we get enough snow to really put our Gazex to the test.

Ski Patrol Benefit Hosted by Two Beers Brewery

Posted in Events and Activities

Two Beers Brewery is hosting an event to benefit the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. They’re calling it “Snow Angels” (Ah shucks.) It looks like it’s going to be a fun night. Many of us will be there. Here’s more from their FB page:

You can’t miss this fundraising event for the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol at Two Beers Brewery in SODO.

Join fellow skiers and boarders, loyal to Crystal Mountain and their ski patrol for an evening of fun, friends, beers, raffles and silent auction. Ski patrol members will attend, as well as our sponsors from PNW organizations, to talk about all things cold and snowy as the season revs up!

Bring your cash! Items from sponsors will be raffled and auctioned throughout the night, with all proceeds from the night benefiting the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol. Items include skis, boots, poles, goggles, and helmets from K2, snowboards from LibTech and GNU, ABS backpacks, avalanche beacons, probes, shovels, and backpacks from BCA, Deuter/Ortovox/Darn Tough Socks, and Mamuut, and shells, gloves, and hats from Outdoor Research. Many sponsors will be available to talk gear.

A portion of the proceeds from each pint of “Chair 6 Amber” or a glass of “Boondoggle Cider” goes directly to Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol.

Hallavah Falafel will be dishing up their famous Falafel and Shawarma.

Representatives of the Northwest Avalanche Center will attend, as well as the “Grand Poobah” of Powder, Larry Schick. Celebrities everywhere.

Come on out and get your head back in the hills.

Re-grading Improvements

Posted in News, Photo of the Day, Place Names

Ed’s link.  Nob removed between Queens Run (to the left) and Chappelle’s

So much is going on this summer, not only do we have two new lifts being built but there are several areas where the re-grading will improve your favorite runs.  Two areas here are located off the Forest Queen lift.

Looking across Broadway. ”Cutting the corner” between Side Burn and After Burn (bottom of Downhill) where it merges onto Broadway

 

 

Photo updates from the new relocated Quicksilver Chair

Posted in News, Photo of the Day

Looking up Quicksilver.

Looking down the new Chair lift line.

  • Bottom terminal

     

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New lift shack, bottom terminal

 

 

 

Check out the new Quicksilver lift!   It’s moving along with the Quicksilver run re-grading now completed, concrete tower footings are in, new top and bottom lift shacks are installed.   Towers and both bull wheels are in lot B waiting to be installed.

Photo updates from Bottom of Chair 6

Posted in News, Photo of the Day

Snow removal continues on Queens Run

It’s been an amazing summer in the Pacific Northwest, hotter and drier than normal.   (Though what is normal, huh?  Guess that’s another topic.)  You’d think the snow would be long gone here at Crystal!  Not on Queens run near the bottom of Chair 6 though.  In-fact there are still several feet siting on the ground.

At the top of Chair 6, the new bullwheel is installed, rock work around the top terminal is well underway and the lift shack has been remodeled.  The concrete footings for each tower are in place, as is the footing and wiring for the bottom terminal.

Looking forward to seeing the final results!

What’s So Cool About Gazex?

Posted in Avalanche Hazard, Events and Activities, News

Exciting, new avalanche control technology is coming to Crystal this season. Three Gazex exploders are currently being installed in Powder Bowl, and if you’re not familiar with the technology, you’ll have to trust me on this one. Gazex is cool.

Why?

Because nothing says all-caps AWESOME like a fiery ball of gas setting off an avalanche. That’s two Hollywood-style special effects for the price of one. Let’s call it the Powder Bowl Two-fer.

Gazex Explosion

So what is Gazex?

Here’s the official marketing speak from the maker’s of Gazex (T.A.S). website:

Gazex is a powerful, permanent remote avalanche control systems. Gazex operates without explosives: the blast is caused by the detonation of a propane and oxygen mixture. The exploders are connected to a central gas shelter capable of storing sufficient gas reserves for the entire season.

Essentially it breaks down like this: a few squirts (and by “squirts” I mean a highly scientific mixture) of propane and O2 are blended in the exploder tube and lit on fire. This is the kind of thing ten-year-old boys’ dreams are made of. A blast of fire explodes from the tip of the tube and points straight down at the snow. This, in turn, will start an avalanche if conditions are right. If not, just like with explosives AC (Avalanche Control), the slope is deemed safe enough to ride.

These exploders are permanent installations. For this reason, Gazex isn’t going to be replacing the ski patrol avalanche teams anytime soon (phew!). Instead, our goal is to use Gazex in places like PB and possibly Rock Face–avalanche paths that overhang heavily trafficked pistes. The Gazex exploders are triggered remotely, which means that the patrol can fire them off quickly and if the hazard ramps up during a storm.

Our Powder Bowl Gazex exploders won’t necessarily mean that Southback is going to open anytime sooner. But they will help us expedite our “in-area” Avalanche Control, keep our snowcat drivers safer and help to mitigate avalanche hazard in Powder Bowl.

Most importantly, Gazex is simply going to be cool to watch.

Blaine in Powder Bowl preparing for concrete

 

 

Chairlift Graveyard

Posted in News

Crews are hard at work on the early stages of some of the changes coming to Crystal this summer.  Come up and see what’s going on.  It sounds like there’ll be some new snow on Saturday, and some sunshine on Sunday!

 

Chairlift Graveyard

What’s opening tomorrow?

Posted in Closures, Conditions, News

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With 12 inches of new snow on the upper mountain over the past five days we came in today to do avalanche control work.

Lifts running will be the Gondola, Green Valley and Rainier Express.   Terrain open will be Snorting Elk, Green Valley and Middle Ferk’s and the rest of the frontside over to (and including) Lucky Shot.  The lift-served terrain is all “blue square” More Difficult terrain, and above.

Kelly’s Gap will remain closed, as is the rest of the lower area below the bottom of Rainier Express.

We hope you’ll come join us!