Bruins receive a spring welcome to boom town |

Bruins receive a spring welcome to boom town

Brent Gardner-Smith

Explosive avalanche control work on Aspen Mountain has rattled windows on recent afternoons, and on Sunday, it provided a sudden wake-up call to a young bear cub and its mother.

After the patrol set off a charge during an unusual midday avalanche control session yesterday, two bears shot out of a cave set in the ridge to the skier’s left of Last Dollar, above Spar Gulch.

“One of the shots woke them up,” said Steve Sewell, mountain manager on Ajax.

The mother bear was clearly surprised by the booming crack of the explosives, and several ski patrollers in her path hurried to more secure locations as she ran aggressively toward them.

The sow and its cub eventually made their way up and over the ridge toward a stand of dark timber above Silver Queen, while patrollers tracked their progress with keen interest.

After the explosions were over, patrollers surmised the bears would find their way back to their winter abode.

Avalanche control work is done on a regular basis in the area, but it is rare to see it done during the middle of the ski day, especially in March.

“I’ve never seen it rain in March as much as it has the last four days,” said Sewell. “I just don’t remember a period of warm temperatures as long and sustained as this.”

The already shallow snowpack is now soaked and rotting, Sewell explained, and some naturally occurring slides had begun to occur in lower remote locations of Aspen Mountain.

On Thursday and Friday afternoon, the booming echoes of explosives heard in downtown Aspen were evidence that the ski patrol had decided to clear known slide paths.

By Sunday morning, some of the slopes above Bingo Slot and Spar Gulch had been stripped to the ground of snow.

Afternoon control work in the late spring is necessary on some years on lower Aspen Mountain and sometimes marks the last week of the ski season in April.

But on Sunday, the patrol took the unusual step of closing Spar Gulch and Copper Bowl at 12:30 for an hour and a half, so a crew could go in and trigger avalanches in areas such as Cone Dump and Rayburn’s.

“You need to go in during the heat of the day,” Sewell explained.

The snow was ready to go. After one charge was set off, the area known as Cone Dump slid all the way to Spar Gulch, taking out several large aspen trees in its path.

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