Alpine Meadows, California residents are upset with the resort’s use of the Gazex avalanche control system on Alpine Meadow Road. The residents cite a lack of research regarding the noise of the system that can deliver 125-decibel blast. Locals are concerned about damage to their hearing and their homes. Both Placer County and Alpine Meadows have decided the resort is not liable for damage caused by the Gazex system.
Gazex system in use
Gazex is becoming increasingly popular at ski areas around the globe. This relatively new system of avalanche control forgoes the use of traditional explosives. Instead, a Gazex is permanent fixture that is installed with heavy duty tubing. One tube aims down towards the ground and another is on top in a perpendicular position that creates a triangle of sorts. On avalanche control days, a mixture of air and propane gas is ignited creating a very loud blast and a flame. The vertical tube sends the blast down into the snow to trigger a potential avalanche.
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows made an enormous investment in the Gazex system. Prior to the 2017-2018 season, they tripled the number of units. The units of particular concern to area residents are the devices installed near Alpine Meadow Road where there are plenty of homes.
While there are concerns regarding the structural safety of homes due to these Gazex blasts, the sheer noise is the big sticking point. Area residents claim the blasts from these new systems are louder than they have heard in their decades of living near the resort. There are obvious health concerns, and it appears Gazex doesn’t have any firm research into the long-term effect of this loud blast.
“That’s the scariest thing about that meeting. They have no clue, they have no data, or precedent for this,” said resident Jared Drake.
“I have a 2-year-old and a new boy on the way. The World Health Organization, I actually got an email from (Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows) saying that the Gazex explodes at 125 decibels, and the World Health Organization says that they don’t accept or advise, even for a fraction of a second, for a toddler or an infant to be exposed to anything over 120 … how do you reconcile the future of my children when it clearly hasn’t been studied?” – Sierra Sun
This is a difficult spot for Squaw and Alpine as there aren’t a ton of options. The Gazex technology is the safest technique of avalanche control for on-mountain personnel as it doesn’t require patrollers to handle explosives. The use of military-issued Howtizer cannons to trigger avalanches is being phased out. Use of hand charges placed and detonated by patrollers is dangerous and exposes the mountain to significant risk.
“It’s extremely hazardous,” said Casey Blann, senior vice president of mountain operations. “Three fatalities in the last eight years, and I had to talk to the wife of the ski patroller, who died recently up at Squaw and her 1-year-old son.
“We’re in a position where we have real legal and ethical considerations. Not just the ones you are bringing up, but in asking patrollers to go in and risk their lives when there’s an alternative piece of equipment.” – Sierra Sun
This is a tough spot for both Alpine Meadows and the local residents. There are a few sides to this debate and they both have legitimate arguments. If it seems like there is always an element of controversy surrounding Squaw and Alpine…there is.