«We guarantee ski operation from 8.00 a.m.»
In action for perfect ski days
«Avalanche blasting is required from 15 centimeters of fresh snow with strong winds,» explains the piste and rescue chief. Then he gets a kind of red sausage out of the snowmobile and ties a cord around the explosive charge. Even with gloves on, no problem for Hans, who has been working for Bergbahnen Samnaun for 25 years.
With blasting masts and by hand
Hans triggers most avalanches with the help of blasting masts, which he can operate with the click of a mouse on his computer or with his cell phone. Here at Palinkopf, he blasts by hand. «I can reach this avalanche slope without putting myself in danger. We use blasting masts mainly in places that are difficult to access.»
In 60 seconds the detonation takes place
Hans has detonated the explosive charge and throws it down the slope. He has measured the length of the cord so that the explosion occurs at the steepest point. «We use a special avalanche explosive that affects the snowpack over a wide area and leaves no residue in the environment.»
The morning sun of Samnaun
Hans spends most of his time in the command center on the Alptrider Sattel. He is responsible for around 70 kilometers of slopes on the Samnaun side of the ski area and coordinates the patrollers' operations. Many skiers are already out and about in the morning. «We have morning sun. That's why many guests who come from Ischgl also ski on the Samnaun slopes.»
The effort is worth it
Twelve loads have room in one blasting bucket. After that, Hans and his team have to dismantle the buckets and refill them. A helicopter helps them do this. «Blasting buckets are expensive and require a lot of maintenance, but the effort is worth it. Our work has become much safer as a result, and we can guarantee ski operations from 08.00 every day.»
«We always have good snow»
Hans appreciates his job because he never knows what can happen on any given day. «My job is exciting and varied. I also get to work in one of the most beautiful and largest ski areas in the Alps. We have high mountains and slopes on all slopes. That's why you always find good snow in Samnaun.»
On the way in the Ski Arena Samnaun/Ischgl
Tips from Hans Kleinstein
239 kilometers of pistes, 45 modern lift facilities and 15 mountain restaurants: the Samnaun-Ischgl ski arena is big and wide. Samnaun's head of piste and rescue explains how to keep track of it all.
- "The easiest way to discover the cross-border ski arena is on one of the three smuggler's circuits. Download the app, track and go!"
- "On Alp Trida and Idalp, lifts lead up in all directions. This allows you to ski all day in the sun and track the best snow."
- "One of the highlights is the "Duty Free Run". The 11 km long run leads from Palinkopf (2864 m) to Samnaun. You can only reach the run via the Austrian side."
- "Do not underestimate the long distances between Ischgl and Samnaun. Plan enough time and allow yourself refreshment breaks."
- "Remember the number of the railroad system you are currently using and the number of the piste you are currently skiing. That way, if an accident is reported, we'll be there right away."
- "If an accident occurs: Secure the accident site and alert emergency services by phone. You can also report to all rail facilities and restaurants."
On the way in the Ski-Arena Samnaun-Ischgl
Tips from Hans Kleinstein
239 kilometres of slopes, 45 modern lift facilities and 15 mountain restaurants: the Samnaun-Ischgl Ski Arena is large and wide. The slope and rescue manager of Samnaun explains how to keep an overview.
- "The easiest way to discover the cross-border ski arena is to join one of the three smuggling rounds. Download the app, track and go!"
- "On Alp Trida and Idalp, lifts lead up in all directions. So you can ski in the sun all day long and track the best snow."
- "One of the highlights is the "Duty Free Run". The 11 km long run leads from Palinkopf (2864 m) to Samnaun. You can only reach the downhill run from the Austrian side."
- "Do not underestimate the great distances between Ischgl and Samnaun. Plan enough time and treat yourself to refreshment breaks."
- "Memorize the number of the cable car you are currently using and the number of the slope you are on. That way, if you report an accident, we'll be on hand immediately."
- "In the event of an accident..: secure the scene of the accident and contact the emergency services by phone. You can also report to all railway stations and restaurants."
"We used to have to ski down avalanche slopes"
HHans Kleinstein is a real Samnauner who has spent his whole life in the valley. As a passionate skier, who is also interested in medicine and technology, it quickly became clear to him that he would like to work once in the rescue team of the mountain railways - in the meantime it has been 25 years.
Since 2006 Hans Kleinstein has been the piste and rescue chief of the Samnaun mountain railways. The 51-year-old leads a team of seven patrolmen who set up piste markings, fasten barrier nets, look after the injured - and last but not least blow up avalanches.
The blasting is used to artificially trigger avalanches. The aim is to relieve dangerous slopes so that the slopes below can be skied safely. There are three ways in which Hans and his team blow up avalanches: by hand, by helicopter or with explosive masts.
Master over 80 detonator masts
"We carry out hand blasts on slopes that are easy to reach. The helicopter is used when extremely heavy snow has fallen. Most blasting, however, is carried out using explosive masts," explains the expert.
46 such detonator masts stand alone in the Samnaun ski area. 34 further masts, for which Hans is also jointly responsible, secure the Samnaun road from spontaneous avalanches. Hans can trigger the explosions by computer or smartphone. The safety precautions are similar to those for e-banking. Each mast is stored with a multi-digit code which Hans has to type in.
700 to 800 blasting operations
The consumption of explosives is closely monitored by the police. And it is not little explosives that are used in Samnaun. "With the pylons alone, we make 700 to 800 explosives a winter. In a very snowy winter it can be twice as many," says Hans.
Avalanche blasting is not a burden on the environment: the explosives leave no residue. The ring closure, which falls into the snow during pole blasting, is biodegradable. And the masts are powered by solar energy.
Explosive masts have been in use in Samnaun since 2001. "Our work has become safer as a result," says Hans. "In the past we had to ski down avalanche slopes, today we can blast from a safe distance". Last but not least, thanks to the many blasting masts, the piste service can guarantee ski operation from 8 a.m. - "and that every day", as Hans Kleinstein emphasises.
Pictures: Dominik Täuber.