Throwing Stones in a Glass House: A career battling avalanches in Little Cottonwood Canyon (Paperback)
This is the story of Liam FitzGerald, who as a young man in the late-1960's, more or less stumbled into the exciting and often hazardous life of an avalanche worker. His attraction to this line of work led him to Little Cottonwood Canyon, in Utah's Wasatch Mountains, the birthplace of Avalanche Control and Forecasting in North America.
There he landed a job as a Ski Patroller at the soon to open super-resort of Snowbird, a new generation ski area that would soon become synonymous with deep snow and steep terrain, just as the ski industry in the U.S. was really about to take off.
Following a rough start to the resort's inaugural season, Liam was abruptly elevated to the position of Snow Safety Director, the person responsible for the avalanche program at the fledging ski area, after the first few weeks of operation. He found himself in an environment notorious for large and deadly avalanches that threatened not only the skiers flocking to the resort's snow covered slopes, but also to motorists traveling along the canyon highway, guests staying at the hotels and lodges, and local residents who called the canyon home. As he would quickly come to understand, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, avalanches can often be the most important thing in everyone's life.
Ready or not, he was thrown into the fray, and quickly realized he had a lot to learn in a short period of time.
For nearly fifty years Liam negotiated a capricious landscape of snow and avalanches, aware of his considerable responsibility, learning as he went; in an era that not only witnessed explosive growth in the ski industry, but also in the number of people willingly putting themselves at risk with their voracious attraction to deep snow and steep terrain. But it was also an era of tremendous advancement in the field of avalanche research, avalanche forecasting and avalanche control, when the level of knowledge and understanding of snow and avalanches increased exponentially. This was an exciting time to be an "avalanche-guy" and Little Cottonwood Canyon was arguably one of the best places in the world to follow that pursuit.
This is a story about learning from one's mistakes, about friendship and camaraderie, about exciting times, interspaced with moments of fear, and on occasion- sorrow. But above all, it's a story of a rather regular person who was lucky enough to have a unique job in a very special place.