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How To Blow Up a Mountain

Will Barrett, head of avalanche forecasting at Breckenridge Ski Resort, explains the sweet science of starting avalanches. 


Photographed by Liam Doran


Enjoy Icicles in Your Nostrils
“Most of the training is on-the-job - climbing and backcountry skiing - and I’ve seen wind-chills of -100°F at the summit. We breathe weather all season long, so we can predict problems in our snow pack that may cause an avalanche.”

Know Your Snow
“There are five different classes of avalanche: Class 1 is a small, loose-snow avalanche that won’t cause harm; Class 5 would be the entire mountain releasing all the way to the ground. We record 125 to 150 avalanches that are Class 2 or above every year.”

Then Blow It Up

Photographed by Liam Doran

“When we see risky snow layers, we bring in the explosives, mostly two- to five-pound hand charges. We’ll ski above the area and toss them 25 to 100 feet into the avalanche path below. We also use big ‘Avalaunchers’ that fire shots downrange up to 1.25 miles.”

Prepare To Be Buried Alive
“Another technique is ski cutting. We blow up a spot and then go zigzagging through it on skis, using them as a knife to release the slabs. I’ve been caught in a few avalanches this way. I’ve never been buried, but I’ve been picked up and dragged down a hill.”

Embrace the No-Fly List
“We have licenses from the ATF to handle the explosives, but you’ll probably want to avoid airport security for a while, since the explosive residue can stay on your body for up to a month” - unless you enjoy full-body cavity searches, that is.

See Will's handiwork at the brand-new Peak 6 in Colorado at breckenridge.com.



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