Published the 24 August 2015
This winter, we followed the Ski Patrol team on what is known as an active avalanche control plan. In summer, the equipment still requires maintenance and the gazex needs to be checked, repaired and replenished. If you’re not scared of heights, come along with us!
It’s 6.30am. We’re at the slope maintenance garage in Val Thorens and are about to spend the day with the Gazex maintenance team.
We have a coffee together while we find out what today’s maintenance plan is, and what the safety instructions are. Before long we hear the sound of the helicopter arriving. It lands just in front of the building, scoops us up and we set off for Cime Caron!
At the mountain top there’s no time to marvel at the landscapes or the sun rising over the neighbouring summits.
We head straight to the storage shelter, which houses oxygen and propane dosage tanks that provide a constant piped supply to two or three exploders – the large metal tubes you see on the ski area. Each exploder contains an ignition system, and when the explosion takes place, a shock wave loosens the unstable layer of the snowpack.
The helicopter is poised above us, with its winch cable in place to lift up the dosage tanks. The empty bottles are carried back to resort in just a few minutes, and are replaced by full ones.
There’s no time to lose as we head down to join the rest of the team, who have got a damaged exploder ready to be collected. When the last anchor points are removed, it is also carried away by the helicopter and taken back to the slope maintenance garage. Depending on the damage caused, it will either be repaired by the manufacturer or replaced.
The helicopter comes back to pick us up and takes us to the west-facing side of the Aiguille de Péclet, carrying out an impressive ‘skid’ landing as it drops us at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres.
The team gets straight back to work. Checks need to be carried out on the state of the welding, the pipes, the shelter... and then any maintenance work is done.
Any exploders that have been damaged by rockfalls, or by the snow are repaired on site. The team work like tightrope walkers, doing any necessary welding work, painting, assembly/disassembly etc, with drops of several hundred metres beneath them at times.
After a very busy morning, it’s time to head back to the Péclet Funitel upper station; a descent along the mountain ridges that is only for the surefooted!
And to round it all off, we enjoy a delicious meal of cooked pork meats, fresh bread and local cheeses. A big thanks to all of those involved in making this unforgettable experience possible for us.