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Colorado: CDOT eyes automated avalanche blasting system for Berthoud Pass corridor

A powder avalanche blasts down a hillside near Berthoud Pass, Colorado. Photo courtesy CDOT.

Pilot project to be considered for the Stanley slide path

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A year or so after first talking up the idea of installing an automated avalanche blasting system on Berthoud Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation is getting ready to hold a public info session to discuss the idea with the public.

At an elevation of 11,307 feet, Berthoud Pass averages about 500 inches of snow per year, and the area has 55 identified slide paths, many of them directly threatening U.S. Highway 40. The most recognized avalanche path, and proposed site of CDOT’s pilot project, is the Stanley Slide area located on US 40 at Mile Post 249.8.

Currently, th Colorado Department of Transportation mitigates for avalanches at the Stanley Slide using ground-fired munitions or explosive charges dropped from helicopters. The existing control program is considered to be effective, but sometimes results in secondary safety concerns and is highly dependent upon weather and other factors.

One commonly used automated system involves the installation of gas lines that can be used to trigger gas explosions in the snow when conditions are ripe. One such system is used on the Mt. Rose highway in Nevada.

CDOT’s pilot project project would install fixed devices in the Stanley Slide paths to trigger and control avalanches. These devices would produce a sonic concussion that would trigger snow movement when conditions warrant treatment. The Pilot Project would be administered by CDOT maintenance staff.

The goal, in cooperation with Clear Creek County, Grand County, the Town of Winter Park, Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Winter Park Resort, is to improve the safety, reliability and predictability of avalanche mitigation on US 40.

If deemed viable, a request for a pilot project would be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, which would then do an environmental study to evaluate and disclose the potential impacts of the installation.

The open house is aimed at establishing a dialogue with stakeholders and user groups of the Berthoud Pass area to identify both challenges and opportunities. The meeting is set for Dec. 1, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Winter Park Town Hall  (50 Vasquez Rd in Winter Park). Questions or comments can be sent to CDOT’s Peter Kozinski at: US40AvalanchePilot@state.co.us.

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