Avalanche invention could save lives

STABILITY DETECTOR: Professor Keith Alexander demonstrates a potentially life-saving snow probe developed by the University of Canterbury to predict avalanches.

KIRK HARGREAVES / The press

STABILITY DETECTOR: Professor Keith Alexander demonstrates a potentially life-saving snow probe developed by the University of Canterbury to predict avalanches.

A potentially life-saving snow probe for predicting avalanches was developed by mechanical engineers at the University of Canterbury.

The probe comes from the Christchurch engineer Arthur Tyndall.

Tyndall, a past president of Broken River Ski Club, made the first prototype in 1999 after friend Neville Ryde died in an avalanche on the club field in 1992.

“It was collected and buried 30 feet deep,” he said.

“At the time I thought, ‘I think I can do something about it. “

Three mechanical engineering students under the supervision of Professor Keith Alexander spent thousands of hours testing and refining the instrument.

Master’s student Mike Halsegger, a former Austrian ski instructor, completed his thesis on the device this year.

Alexander, who developed the springless trampoline, said early versions were complicated, but the latest model was simple.

Tyndall said the instrument is ready to be manufactured and that he believes it could revolutionize avalanche control.

The device had detected an unstable layer during testing on the Broken River, and there was an avalanche when the temperature rose in the afternoon, he said.

“I feel like I might have done something to avoid tragedy because I know what it feels like to lose a friend under such circumstances.

“I would love to see it in use and then I would be proud of it.”

With a rotary shovel, the instrument detects instability by measuring the snow resistance. The likelihood of an avalanche is then determined on the basis of the slope. The assessment is sent to a handheld computer.

It takes about 30 seconds and avalanche controllers eliminate the need to dig pits to find layers of unstable snow.

Canterbury heliskiing guide Jonathan Morgan and Australian heliskier Llynden Riethmuller died in separate avalanches in the Ragged Range near Methven this winter, while snowboarder Ryan Campbell was killed after being buried in an avalanche on Coronet Peak.

IDesign Solutions’ Lincoln Sell estimated the cost from now on of the first 10 in production to be $ 500,000, including compliance testing and verification, design, and electronics.

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