UDOT Wyssen Towers on Superior

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Hello backcountry community, 

We hope you’re finding escapes from the summer heat! WBA has been busy this summer meeting with various stakeholders and decision-makers in the Central Wasatch. Recently, UDOT informed us about the details of their upcoming project to install sixteen Wyssen Avalanche Towers from Mount Superior (near High Models) to Cardiff Peak (near Hellgate Bowl). UDOT’s plan to install Wyssen Towers, which are a type of Remote Avalanche Control Systems (RACS), on Superior and along the LCC ridgeline was presented at the 2017 Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop. WBA was invited to meet with UDOT last week at the Alta Guard Station to learn more and discuss our concerns about access and terrain.

UDOT’s Avalanche Safety Program is one of the best. If you’ve heard them speak at a Utah Snow & Avalanche Workshop or follow along with their mitigation efforts throughout the season, you know that keeping SR-210 open during big storms is no small feat. Throughout the years, they have been improving their program by updating technology and transitioning to Remote Avalanche Control System (RACS). You’ve likely noticed these new Wyssen Avalanche Towers along places like the Emma ridgeline. Why is UDOT transitioning to RACS? They reduce UDOT’s dependence on outdated military equipment, eliminate the need to fire Howitzer shells over the Town of Alta, and make mitigation work safer, more efficient, and reliable. 

ACCESS

First and foremost, our meeting with UDOT confirmed that winter backcountry access will not be impacted. The Wyssen Avalanche Towers will not impact the typical ascent route, as the towers will be slightly downslope from the ridge. UDOT predicts that backcountry closures will not change significantly and will remain consistent with policy from previous backcountry closures using howitzers. UDOT said, if anything, this new technology could shorten the duration of backcountry closures. They expect the same frequency of closures (assuming a constant storm rate). There could be 1-2 additional backcountry closures throughout the winter to restock the Wyssens. 

BACKCOUNTRY TERRAIN

Mount Superior is a unique mountain given its proximity to the main line (SR-210, not the bypass road), its status as one of the “Fifty Classics,” and the resulting popularity. It’s important to note that UDOT is focused on mitigating potentially destructive avalanches that could threaten the roadway and other infrastructure – meaning, there are many other avalanche slide paths on the face that might not reach the roadway but could still pose significant risk to backcountry riders. Backcountry conditions still exist and avalanches are always a very real possibility.  

We asked UDOT how mitigation results will differ with the new Wyssen Avalanche Towers. UDOT explained that they expect to see the same quality of results. In the past, UDOT would fire 12-18 rounds over the Town of Alta towards their 35 potential target locations on and around Mount Superior. With the new Wyssen Towers, there are sixteen target locations, but they expect to only fire six to eight of these shots during a typical closure. Of course, this depends on the storm and avalanche problem at hand. We will see how this plays out for scoring fresh turns on Superior. Based on our meeting, it seems like backcountry terrain and backcountry conditions will not be impacted.

There will be no changes to how the public is notified of backcountry closures. Follow @UDOTCottonwoods and @UDOTAvy for the latest updates on road and backcountry closure updates.

NEPA AND THE VIEWSHED

While access and terrain will not be impacted by this project, the view will be altered. UDOT received a Categorical Exclusion for this project which looked at numerous impacts including vegetation, viewshed, cultural, historical, wildlife, etc. Four towers are located on USFS property, 12 are located on private property owned by Snowbird. The 12 towers that are located on Snowbird’s land will be galvanized metal which is shiny at first, but dulls over time. The four towers on USFS land will be painted a grey color to comply with viewshed standards.

What does this mean for summer use? Your typical South Ridge scrambles and WURL routes are on pause until construction is complete. Please be sure to check UDOT’s closure map and adhere to closure signs for your safety and the safety of other canyon users. UDOT expects the project to begin as soon as July 8th and is estimated to be complete by October 2024 with a full area closure during the duration of the project for public safety.

UDOT will provide updates for the public through their social channels and website as construction gets closer and will provide status updates throughout the project. WBA will do our best to reshare updates on Instagram. You can learn more about this project and direct any questions to UDOT: https://udotinput.utah.gov/mtsuperioravalanchemitigation 

Closure Area & Staging Location
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.
Wyssen Tower waypoints from UDOT’s kmz file imported to onX Backcountry.

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