A Merging of Espresso and Tourists — ISSW 2018 Part 1

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 2, 2018      
Congress Innsbruck convention center.

Congress Innsbruck convention center. Our entire stay here in Austria was graced with beautiful fall weather.

Officially, “A Merging of Theory and Practice.” But when you combine jetlag with a location two blocks away from the famed Innsbruck Golden Roof, caffeine and crowds are themes. The event was held last month at Congress Innsbruck, a beautiful convention center near the main tramway station, next to the Inn River. A wall of mountains rises above the complex. With a chill in the air and autumn leaves skittering in the breeze, despite the population of about 130,000 you get the distinct feeling you’re in a mountain village rather than a metroplex. Just fractions of a kilometer away from here, you can practice the alpine sports that snow avalanches are such an influence on.

In reporting the conference, I’ll do a three-part narrative touching on the presentations I found most interesting or useful from a ski touring and mountain living perspective: “blogger’s take.”

“Protection measures” such as defense structures and stability structures are out of my usual gamut. Nonetheless, due to our backcountry development projects, I find these things to be interesting and enjoyed related presentations. Apparently, it is not uncommon for rockslide defense structures (nets and such) to be exposed to snow avalanches. As well as the opposite. Thus, there was a discussion about building these things in such a way as to serve both purposes.

The takeaway I got was that while rockfall impacts can be strong, upwards of 500 kilo-joules, the pressure of snow pressing against the nets can be immense as well — and loads broadly instead of producing point impacts. More, some of the rock nets have brake systems that lack a repeating function. The brakes are perhaps triggered by the snow weight, with subsequent maintenance issues (resetting or otherwise renewing the brakes). When they build the rock and snow nets, constructors sometimes set up elaborate systems using temporary walkways and cranes. Crews tasked with upkeep don’t have those benefits, so nets need to persist in performance. Overall, I now have a new appreciation of the nets and fences one sees while riding the trams and driving the roads of the world.

Next up, “rock mechanics researcher” Thomas Boone, also a backcountry skier, gave a fascinating presentation that spoke to where the energy comes from that pulls the avalanche slab from the snowpack: the so-called “fracture energy.” He derived his take from the fracture mechanics of rock. As most of us know, the “collapse” of the snowpack on a weak layer, along with the snowpack weight, are where the energy comes from. It was cool to see this viewed from a more scientific aspect. Boone closed his talk by wrapping back to how this relates to the hand compression tests we use in avalanche hazard evaluation. His take was overall favorable to compression tests, but noted his work indicated the Propagation Saw Test (PST) might not be so great. I’ve never used the PST in real life situations, so no worries on my part. But those of you who spend extra time in your pit work due to the PST might want to consider your options.

You ever driven Rogers Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway? A presentation by Chris Argue gave up a few factoids that could add interest when you’re driving up there for a ski tour: You are rolling under more than 150 avalanche paths. Control work is done with a combination of helicopter bombing, 17 gun platforms for their artillery, snow nets at Cougar Corner (said to be the largest net install in the western hemisphere) and RACS (remote avalanche control systems) towers. The latter are interesting devices that drop an explosive charge on a rope, when requested remotely. They’re re-loaded via helicopter.

The gist of Argues’s talk was that an enormous avalanche safety project was initiated in 2015: The “Trans-Canada-Highway Avalanche Mitigation Project for GNP” addresses everything from detection to control. The commonality in this, found throughout the world, is an ever-increasing use of RACS towers. For example, in another presentation about avy risk management at Ischgl, they mentioned that 134 RACS towers had already been installed, with more on the way. It seems the things are so effective the powers can’t get enough of them. The trick in the U.S. will be RACS in legal wilderness, or not. They’re rather civilized. In any case, 134 towers on the Ischgl slopes? That’s industrialization, nothing less.

On the same subject of major highway improvements, Bill Nali of the Utah Department of Transportation did a short talk about Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon and what they’re doing to fix it. We’re talking a 23-kilometer road with 64 avalanche paths and bumper-to-bumper travel of about 12,000 cars daily.

Apparently, calculating the Little Cottonwood avy risk levels burned up a computer CPU or two, but not until they’d convinced Utah to build 1,000 meters of snowsheds at a cost of 65 million dollars. Along with that, they plan on adding plenty of Gasex and RACS remote trigger devices. While the end result won’t be complete for a while, I’m sure it’ll be appreciated by the people living in houses underneath the artillery target trajectories. You know, things like human error… In my case, once the snow sheds are in I’ll miss the window views up the throat of the beast, but then, I won’t be sweating fear as I sit there in the stop-and-go traffic.

Overall a good day, with a bit too much structural engineering for my interests. The “softer” content comes over the next few days.

Thanks to one of our commenters reminding me, you can access conference abstracts and articles here.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


13 Responses to “A Merging of Espresso and Tourists — ISSW 2018 Part 1”

  1. TimZ November 2nd, 2018 10:23 am

    Thanks for the reporting on this. I enjoyed when ISSW was in Breckenridge but unfortunately Innsbruck is a bit too far for me to travel for this conference.
    Great to be able to keep up with it anyway.

  2. Jernej November 2nd, 2018 1:22 pm

    What struck me as odd in these LCC, TCanada and CDOT presentations was how much money is supposedly lost when these roads close, how many lives are at risk etc. yet there hasn’t been that much done in the past (or present) to reduce that risk and closures. Surely it makes economic sense, if not otherwise, to build some sheds and install kilometers of fences and RACS etc. rather than shoot thousands of artillery rounds and helicopter drops with dubious results under uncertain weather conditions? Rather ironic, in a country with less than stellar environmental record, the environmental concerns are often an argument/obstacle against widespread deployment of active/passive avalanche protection measures.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 November 2nd, 2018 4:03 pm

    Jernej, lots going on with that stuff. For example in the U.S., we now have a super hardcore environmental law, NEPA, that essentially changed everything, and indeed can be used as a weapon against development, even when the development is clearly appropriate, though environmental awareness continues to grow, overall a good thing, though nothing is perfect.

    The economics are indeed odd on the one hand, but these sorts of discrepancies happen all the time throughout the world, due to politics, special interests, etc. Such as the lorries of the EU carry goods that would be much better hauled by train.


  4. Jernej November 3rd, 2018 1:59 am

    Funny you should bring up truck/train issue. Just last week I was so bored on my daily commute that I started counting trucks. ~480 in under 1 hour on the motorway. And it wasn’t a terribly busy day. However, our train tracks are also just full of cargo to the point where passenger trains are almost non existent or completely irrelevant in the grand picture. There is so much cargo traffic going east/west (Portugal to Romania route) you could probably make 3 more train lines and still not get the roads clear of trucks, not to even mention the vans doing the same route without the restrictions on driving time and rest. There was a great article in Spiegel (I think) that summarized the lives of these van drivers as 50h one way, with 2 coffee breaks, 1 day rest, turn around and repeat. And the words: being Romanian is a proffession, not a nationality.

  5. Lou Dawson 2 November 3rd, 2018 8:04 am

    Jernej, we were pretty impressed by the Inn Valley trains, commuted between Kufstein, Worgl, Innsbruck during ISSW. Bought a week pass for Lisa and I, made it affordable, otherwise super expensive, sometimes crowded but always a place to fit in. I’ve done quite a bit of train travel around EU over past ten years, often expensive and hectic for tourist, but it works. I don’t worship them, however. Incredibly expensive to build, busses often better. Lou

  6. Rod Georgiu November 3rd, 2018 8:52 am

    Can we learn more about the saw propagation test not effective?
    And the compression test speech?

  7. Jernej November 3rd, 2018 11:22 am

    Rod: all ISSW papers are publicly available at Montana Uni. Library. I imagine Lou is talking about this one http://arc.lib.montana.edu/snow-science/item.php?id=2499

  8. Lou Dawson 2 November 3rd, 2018 2:10 pm

    Thanks Jernej!

  9. Ethan Poltrack November 5th, 2018 6:45 am

    The trains is what caught my attention. Beautiful country but I would think of being aware of the pressures in the Mountains and what affects that has on the shifting side of things. I was amazed at the amount of people but also very appreciative we still seek out these things.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 November 5th, 2018 8:17 am

    Yeah, I love the Alps and European mountain culture, but every time I go there then return to Colorado-Utah-Wyoming etc. I am supremely grateful for what we have in terms of the unpopulated backcountry. Vast vast regions. Not just talking about the mountains, but the whole picture. Western Colorado for example, just vast and beautiful. Wyoming, Wind Rivers, Red Desert… and on and on.

  11. Al November 6th, 2018 9:35 pm

    Mebbe the super hardcore nepa law in the US has helped preserve some of the areas you mention, funny eh?

  12. Frame November 7th, 2018 6:36 am

    A bigger influence would be lack of people and water compared to Europe?

  13. Bob Berwyn November 29th, 2018 12:39 pm

    Nice reporting on some of the techy stuff, Lou. I was there too, wish I had known you were there! For me, the day featuring info on snow and climate change was super interesting. It was also great to see, in the poster sessions, a lot researchers, especially women researchers, focus on the sustainability of mountain communities. Also some fascinating examples and studies of nearly unprecedented avalanche activity in some regions. I’m working on a couple of stories based in info from ISSW and I posted an ongoing Twitter thread with my perceptions, which includes some random Innsbruck stuff, too. https://twitter.com/bberwyn/status/1049569159015751680

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