An avalanche occurred on March 29 which caused Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden to be closed for nearly nine hours. (DriveBC)

An avalanche occurred on March 29 which caused Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden to be closed for nearly nine hours. (DriveBC)

Revelstoke area sees busiest avalanche season in years

Large snowfalls caused an exceptional amount of avalanche control work in Rogers Pass

Spring is in full swing as planter boxes bloom with the season’s first flowers. However, in the alpine regions of the province, avalanche control workers are just wrapping up what was one of the busiest avalanche seasons in years.

According to the Ministry of Transportation, the busy avalanche season caused closures on Highway 1 between Revelstoke to Golden, which were more frequent this past winter compared to the previous two winters.

The Trans-Canada between Revelstoke and Golden was closed for avalanche control activities 34 times between Nov. 2021 and March 2022. This is almost five times as many closures, compared to statistics for the same period two years ago when only six closures occurred, and up from nine closures last year. The Ministry of Transportation reported 15 vehicle incidents on Highway 1 in that time frame, up from 10 in 2020-2021 but down from 17 in 2019-2020.

It was also a busy winter for the stretch of Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Sicamous. From Nov. 2021 to March 2022 the highway was closed 18 times for avalanche control, vehicle incidents, and travel advisories, up from only four closures the previous year.

There were a number of outstanding snowfalls this winter in Rogers Pass according to Johann Schleiss, avalanche operations officer for Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. At the Mt. Fidelity research site the avalanche control team recorded 168 cm of snow between Nov. 13 – 15, and a further 161 cm from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1.

The Ministry of Transportation said that atmospheric river events in November kicked off the winter with above-average snow depths in the alpine. The rain created an ice crust layer at the base of the snowpack, which was the foundation for many large avalanches throughout the winter.

Schleiss said that the avalanche control team in Rogers Pass defines the winter season as everything that occurs between the beginning of November and the end of May.

Avalanche operations have kept records of avalanche activity in Rogers Pass since 1955, and this past season is in the top 25 per cent for the number of avalanche control missions performed.

“Definitely an outstanding year,” said Schleiss.

The core of the program in Rogers Pass is their 60-year-long partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces who use Howitzer cannons to set off avalanches in accordance with the expertise and research provided by the avalanche team, however their work has evolved to also employ more modern techniques.

Remote avalanche control systems and heli-bombing allow the team in Rogers Pass to trigger avalanches in places the Howitzer can’t reach and save time on highway closures.

In late March, the first significant warming of the spring triggered a historic avalanche cycle below 1,500 metres, with many avalanches released to the ground.

On March 29, an avalanche full of natural debris closed Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden for nearly nine hours.

An avalanche closed Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden. (John Lilley/Facebook photo)

An avalanche closed Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden. (John Lilley/Facebook photo)

READ MORE: Highway 1 open between Revelstoke and Golden following avalanche

READ MORE: 60 years of avalanche control in Rogers Pass

A howitzer firing at an avalanche in Rogers Pass, circa 1960. (Revelstoke Museum & Archives photo 2641)

A howitzer firing at an avalanche in Rogers Pass, circa 1960. (Revelstoke Museum & Archives photo 2641)

The avalance operations team employed the use of a DaisyBell, a gas exploder which hangs from a helicopter. The bell-shaped cone creates an explosion when oxygen and hydrogen are ignited in order to direct force down on the snow and trigger an avalanche.


@josh_piercey
josh.piercey@revelstokereview.com

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