Avalanche control system to help keep traffic moving

A new remote avalanche control system will be operational this winter in Three Valley Gap

Installation: Workers install one of the Wyssen towers in Three Valley Gap on Friday

A new remote avalanche control system will be operational this winter in Three Valley Gap, reducing highway closure times and improving public safety.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced in June 2015 it would be installing a new automated system and, in Aug. 2016, Swiss company Wyssen Avalanche Control, Inc. had been awarded a $2.1 million contract to provide it.

Robb Andersen, MOTI senior manager, avalanche and weather programs/construction and maintenance branch, expects the system will be operational by mid-November, and says there is excitement among his peers to see it in action.

“It’s been a big project,” said Andersen. “This type of device, this is the first one that’s been installed in North America… So we’re very excited to employ this new technology within our avalanche program, and it’s a good device for that location for what we need.”

Andersen provided the review with a detailed explanation of the project and how the system works.

First off, he said the project involves the installation of eight permanent towers, between eight and 12 metres tall, placed in specific avalanche paths up high on Three Valley Gap’s steep terrain over the Trans-Canada Highway. These towers are to accommodate the explosives that will be used to trigger avalanches.

Only four of the eight towers will be operational this winter, with the remaining four being installed next spring.

“So the ones that were installed this year were the ones that we felt were going to be the most effective, the most frequent avalanche areas that produce the largest avalanches, so they were prioritized,” said Andersen, adding the public we won’t see the full benefit of the system until next winter, but it will still have a positive impact.

“It will give the avalanche control team a chance to figure out operationally how to best use it and how effective it is and we’ll go from there.

With the towers in place, a round, detachable/refillable deployment box is placed on top by helicopter. These circular boxes each contain 12 explosive charges, four-and-a-half kilograms in size.

“From the highway, the avalanche technician, through a secure, remote radio communication… can sit at a computer in their truck and communicate with these towers and be able to remotely deploy one of these charges,” said Andersen.

Andersen said the towers are on a 15-degree-angle, hanging over the avalanche path. When a charge is deployed, it drops from the box on a 10-metre rope. When it reaches the rope’s full length, a fuse inside is ignited, leaving a 45-second delay before detonation.

Andersen said the charge detonates while suspended above the snow’s surface, providing a much better effect than if it were in the snow. This, he said, is just one of the benefits over the normally used practice of helibombing. Another is that explosives from each of the towers can be triggered at once. Andersen said this will result in a significant time reduction to the ministry’s highway avalanche control efforts, from about an hour to maybe 15 minutes.

Another benefit of the new system is that, unlike helibombing, it’s use is not restricted by weather conditions – avalanche control would be possible 24/7.

“That will also get the highway open that much sooner,” said Andersen.

Asked about the impact closures of Highway 1 have on the province’s economy, Andersen said it’s been estimated to be a loss of about $500,000 an hour.

And then there’s the safety angle, and that doesn’t just pertain to those travelling the Trans-Canada Highway.

Andersen said helicopter bombing is inherently risky, and the new system will reduce the risk for avalanche crews and maintenance contractors who work in the avalanche area.

Andersen noted Parks Canada has also invested in avalanche safety measures for Rogers Pass. Speaking specifically to the Wyssen towers, however, they said they will go a long way to help achieve the ministry’s goals for reducing road closures and providing an acceptable level of safety.

“That’s really why we’re doing this,” said Andersen.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: Diabetes Canada donation bins becoming garbage dumps amid pandemic

Diabetes Canada has asked residents to stop overflowing bins with donations and garbage

Okanagan College students receive emergency funding

Funding is available to domestic and Indigenous students from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training

Okanagan temperatures to be in the double digits all week

Kelowna’s forecast projects a high of 17 degrees on Thursday

Shuswap residents invited to show white heart in support of health-care workers

Emailed messages will be posted at Shuswap Lake General Hospital

Salmon Arm Silverbacks remember Humboldt Broncos on anniversary of fatal crash

Sixteen people killed, 13 injured after semi collided with team bus on April 6, 2018

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Spike of visitors to Princeton-area stressing grocery supply chain and healthcare teams

‘We are really not set up to have this many people at this time of year.’ Area H Director Bob Coyne

Summerland to offer mental health webinar

Event will examine ways of coping during COVID-19 pandemic

Okanagan tourism continues to suffer following COVID-19 pandemic

The District of Lake Country voted to suspend tourism on March 31

Van crashes into Kamloops home

Police say the driver went into medical distress before the crash

Kelowna RCMP seizes guns, illicit drugs following disturbance

RCMP seized three firearms and a variety of suspected illicit and prescription drugs

West Kelowna birthday parades cancelled, Easter drive-by egg hunt still on

West K Party Parades made the decision to keep community safe

Most Read