Mother Nature really delivered the goods to Solitude this season. With over 800 inches of snow falling since November, we’ve had plenty of powder days this year and we’re still open for skiing and riding. With a 12-foot base currently underfoot, we’ve moved our closing date all the way to May 21, making Solitude one of the few resorts still open in Utah.
It’s amazing we’ve received so much snow this winter, but it has been an incredible amount of work for our employees. No one knows this better than our ski patrol. In addition to assisting guests who are out skiing and riding, our patrol works diligently to reduce the possibility of avalanches on the mountain. Solitude has excellent terrain for skiing and riding, but much of that terrain is susceptible to slides until properly mitigated. Because we’ve received so much snow this season, we’ve had 94 mitigation days — days when special teams of patrollers use explosives and other means to reduce the avalanche hazard on the mountain.
When a storm arrives at Solitude, our patrol is up before sunrise assessing snow conditions, calculating the avalanche hazard, and developing a mitigation plan for the day. Most of the mitigation work we do takes place with hand-thrown explosives. Following designated routes, patrollers ski or step their way around the mountain to detonate charges in avalanche-prone locations. When a charge explodes, a shock wave generates a controlled slide, clearing away unstable snow and making the mountain safer for our guests. Solitude has 18 mitigation routes with each route containing anywhere from four to 45 locations that might need to be mitigated on any given day.
It may sound like fun to throw explosives around the mountain, but it’s difficult work. Our patrollers board the chairs before the sun is up while temperatures are at their coldest. They break trail on their routes while wearing heavy packs filled with charges and gear.
Avalanche mitigation is a process that takes time to complete – and some special timing as well. We’ve received record snowfall this year, much of which has arrived through back-to-back storms. It’s been a challenge just to keep up with the snow! We have 18 to 24 patrollers on the mountain on any given day, and only so many of them can be assigned to mitigation work. Others are patrolling terrain that is already open — including providing medical assistance to guests when needed.
Solitude has been taking steps to further streamline our mitigation process. We now have a Wyssen Tower system installed in the Boundary Chutes of Honeycomb Canyon, allowing for remote detonation of explosives to trigger controlled slides. We are installing three more Wyssen Towers in Honeycomb Canyon this summer, freeing up more patrol resources next season.
When you think of avalanches you most likely think of winter, but spring carries challenges as well. In addition to storms which can drop multiple feet of snow, spring brings additional hours of sunlight, a higher sun angle, and warmer temperatures which can result in slushy avalanches known as wet slides. We’re currently entering a warming phase at Solitude with temperatures above freezing both day and night — wet slides are possible on the mountain as well as in the canyon below. Our ski patrol will be hard at work mitigating the avalanche hazard at Solitude and keeping as much terrain open as possible for you!
When you aren’t on the mountain skiing and riding, check out the fun events we have scheduled during our extended season. Enjoy Cinco de Mayo with us next Friday, our Kentucky Derby party on Saturday, and our Eagle Retirement Party on Sunday. Eagle Retirement Party, you ask? Yes, this is the last season we’ll be running the Eagle Express quad lift before it’s replaced with a six-pack chair next season. Come say goodbye to this Utah legend (the first detachable quad in the state) with food trucks and music – and take a final ride on this classic chair!
To catch up on previous Amber’s Updates, visit: https://blog.solitudemountain.com/category/ambers-updates/