Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Construction in the alps

Only 30 or so years ago the sound of a helicopter in the alps signaled an emergency: someone who had fallen whilst mountain climbing; someone lost in the mountains; and often the outcome was not positive. Similar to my parent’s generation and their relationship to the telephone – if it rang, it bode no good: it took my siblings many years and many calls before my mother was not 100% sure that there was bad news on the other end of the line and today in the alps for the older generation the sound of helicopters still make for disquiet in their hearts.

However, today almost all construction is undertaken via helicopter and I have had the pleasure of following a few deliveries of roofing, of tiles, or pre-fab slabs of concrete.

This year where I rent has been a constant ballet of helicopters as they are undertaking a long-term change in the electrical lines: the old 220 volt ones are going to be replaced by more powerful 380 volt lines and they are also lowering them further down into the deep gorged valley so that they will be not only less exposed to the elements, but also less visible to the tourists and inhabitants of the mountain villages along the way.

However, this time it was a much more prosaic task: they were filling in holes in the road and in particular near the train station in Trétien with asphalt.  The truck with the asphalt was stationed on a parking about a kilometer away and a helicopter transferred a bucket of asphalt to the train station, returning with the empty, waiting for a re-fill and so on. They had it down to a science and although I didn’t count the number of trips I was able to determine that when the helicopter returned to the parking lot for his next load it took under a minute! He would come in nose facing left, turn and have his nose facing back to the right whilst the workers on the ground first unhooked the empty bucket then hooked up the full one – and off he went. This only stopped on the hour when the next lot of trains was expected.

parking lot in the bend before the village

unhooking the empty bucket

hooking up the full bucket

lowering it towards the trains station

hovering whilst the full is unhooked and the empty put back on

repeat: unhook



take off

and away it goes whilst the workers re-position the empty to be filled

back to the train station

coming in - nose pointed towards the valley

turning whilst the buckets are swapped

re-positioned for the next delivery: the whole process was about 30 seconds!

It was fun watching and probably a lot more ecological than trying to bring up big trucks then transfer to smaller, then smaller, then buckets. Also much quicker thus probably largely compensating for the price of the helicopter.

Still observing as I walked back up the mountain

In the distance the ballet continues until the next train