January Patrol Report

The Fernie Alarm Clock?

What is the first sign of a big powder day? Well, it’s the windows shaking from the thundering roar we all know as the Fernie Alarm Clock. These loud, early morning booms echo from high in the mountains and are the bi-product of the Ski Patrol’s assault on avalanches. Early in the dawning hours of a snowy morning begins the ongoing process of assessing avalanche conditions. Patrollers systematically make snow and weather observations, hazard and risk analysis, and decisions on terrain access. Some situations require an area to remain closed due to elevated risk, and if conditions permit it’s powder shreddin’ for all. The first step in the avalanche reduction plan is firing explosives at the headwall using an Avalauncher, more commonly known as The Gun.

The Avalauncher is essentially a two chambered pneumatic cannon. This cannon is built to deliver a one kilogram explosive payload assembly to remote places to control avalanches. Pressurized nitrogen gas is used as the propellant. A predetermined pressure is built into the main pressure vessel, and quickly released through the barrel, taking with it the shot en route to a selected target. Each payload is made up of a shaped one kilogram cast explosive, a high strength detonating cap, and a tailfin safety assembly. Once airborne, the shot is armed and detonates on impact. The payload has a range of up to 2000 meters, and a possible elevation gain of up to 300 meters. Redundant safety systems, extensive training and strict protocols are procedures in place to ensure safety. When these machines are retired, they can be found at various local events shooting T-shirts at lucky recipients.

Know the Line

Ski Area Boundary or Avalanche Closure. What is the difference? Within the Fernie Alpine Resort Controlled Recreation Area, the ski patrol is responsible for making terrain use decisions. Again, at times of elevated risk, certain zones must be closed. These avalanche closures are implemented by the use of flip signs situated in lines with a rope fence, known as sign lines. Disobeying an Avalanche Closure is not only extremely dangerous, but results in the immediate loss of lift privileges.

A Ski Area Boundary is the limit of the resort. The boundaries never open or close. Going out of bounds is at your own discretion. Upon leaving the resort under a boundary fence, you are entering an area that has no ski patrol or avalanche control. Known as the backcountry, slack country, or out of bounds, you must have the knowledge, training and equipment to make safe decisions and manage any situations that may arise. You are at your own risk. Boundaries may not be accessed if it means traveling through an avalanche closure. Know before you go, be safe, and have fun.

Visit www.skifernie.com for more information on the conditions, events, and news at Fernie Alpine Resort.