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Snow avalanche control at Mt Hutt
A Feilding firm is setting world industry standards in avalanche control.
Snowteck Systems is exporting it's "avalauncher" Nitro Xpress guns to the slopes of Canada and the United States. The guns fire explosives for controlled avalanches.
Safety systems developed by director Andy Marshall have advanced the 30-year-old technology previously available.
"There was a big gap in the market when it came to the technology in the guns," he said.
Mr Marshall, helped by wife Caroline, began Snowteck Systems about four years ago. It has now moved out of the development phase to market the Nitro Xpress.
So far eight avalaunchers have been sold – six to Canada and the US. Closer to home, Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa ski field uses one, while the Marshalls have just made a sale to the South Island's Mt Hutt.
To try to promote the avalauncher, which can fire explosives up to 3.2 kilometres, they are often loaned to ski field operators who can give the 269 kilograms guns a try.
"It's a very very good marketing tool for us," Mr Marshall said.
This year Turoa skifield trialled one, while next year the ski slopes of The Remarkables will get to use it. There was also a potential market for road and rail companies to use the avalauncher to control avalanches threatening transport networks, he said.
"This fires in zero visibility because they know it will hit the target."
Alternative ways of creating avalanches included skiers placing explosives on a site by hand before skiing to safety.
Bombing from helicopters is also used.
The Marshalls also run two other businesses from their Feilding site: AC Plastics and AC Electrics.
Capital from these was used during the development stages of Snowteck Systems, Mr Marshall said.
Funding was also secured from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, as well as accessing other sources through Vision Manawatu.
"The development process is extremely time consuming and expensive... [but] we've done all the hard work."
The sales to North America came after Snowteck Systems showed its avalauncher at an International Ski Science Workshop in Canada, which meant a busy Christmas last year as six avalaunchers had to be completed within four weeks.
The Marshalls were hoping another appearance at next year's workshop in the US would generate more orders.
In New Zealand, Snowteck Systems would be able to sell about 10 avalaunchers, but the scale of ski fields in North America opened up huge opportunities, Mr Marshall said.
Older avalaunchers could be quite dangerous, but the Nitro Xpress had been developed to ensure there were no misfires.
Some of the work in building the machines was done by contractors.
Snowteck Systems spent New Zealand's summer months developing new technology to be tested here in winter, ready to export during the next northern winter.
Mr Marshall had previously worked as an electrician, while Mrs Marshall's background is in teaching.