4 February 2022 — 12:00 noon — online
Jesse Ritner (UT)
“Making Powder Snow: Skiing and Researching Avalanches, 1945-1990”
The paper traces the development of avalanche mitigation, forecasting, and research in Utah and Colorado. The first people to embark on avalanche research did so to protect Alta ski area (in Utah) from avalanche risk. As skiing grew, ski resorts and departments of transportation increasingly relied on new forms of avalanche forecasting and mitigation. As a result, when the military invested in avalanche research in the 1970s, snow rangers and ski patrollers used to working on ski resorts became key participants in national
projects. Ski areas over the 1960s-70s became well practiced at recording snow data. Therefore, as forecasting became increasingly important to both departments of transportation and backcountry skiers, forecasters relied on patrollers and snow rangers to provide the information they needed to predict risk. As a result, even as professional researchers moved away from ski areas, the highly exclusive form of winter recreation continued to play an active and irreplaceable role in professional avalanche sciences.
Jesse Ritner is a PhD candidate in the UT History Department, specializing in U.S. Environmental History. His dissertation, tentatively titled “Making Snow: Weather, Technology, and the Rise of the American Ski Industry, 1900-present,” explores how the North American ski industry came of age in the second half of the twentieth century, despite the increasingly unreliable snowpack of the last seventy years. The project explores themes of weather modification (both successful and unsuccessful), environmental resilience, race, and the politics of place and space, as well as the ways in which people experience and discuss weather and climate.
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