Three Valley Gap gets first in avalanche tech

Remote avalanche towers in dangerous transit corridor to reduce Highway 1 closures this winter.

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Remote avalanche towers installed in Three Valley Gap. Photo: Wyssen Avalanche Control

High up in the clouds this past fall, in the treacherous mountains of Three Valley Gap, a small team of specialized workers hung from ropes.

They were installing four Wyssen Avalanche Towers in preparation for a remote avalanche control system to go live this winter, just outside of Revelstoke. It’s part of a $6 million government project and the first of its kind for North America.

Selkirk Mountain Helicopters’ pilots placed the towers, as tall as 39 feet and angled at about 15 degrees, with finesse. Perched on rocky outcrops in avalanche paths, these towers hold sensitive cargo.

Selkirk Mountain Helicopters’ pilots placed the towers. Photo: Rob Buchanan for Wyssen Avalanche Control
Selkirk Mountain Helicopters’ pilots placed the towers. Photo: Rob Buchanan for Wyssen Avalanche Control

12 explosive charges are loaded into each tower in revolver-style deployment boxes. Each charge is attached to a seven-metre rope and, once dropped to full length, fuses light and they explode above the snow.

All of this can be done by the push of a button from an iPad far away, at any time and in all weather conditions.

Wyssen Avalanche Control is the Swiss company awarded the $2.1 million contract to install and maintain the towers. Revelstoke-based general manager Walter Steinkogler oversaw a team of workers who accessed the site by ropes and harnesses. Daily safety meetings were the norm.

“The project is a big challenge. It’s Highway 1, nothing is easy with it,” Steinkogler said.

12 explosive charges are loaded into each tower in revolver-style deployment boxes. Photo: Wyssen Avalanche Control
12 explosive charges are loaded into each tower in revolver-style deployment boxes. Photo: Wyssen Avalanche Control

The project is expected to reduce the size of avalanches in the area. This means less delays and closures to the main east-west commercial link. But while the towers will operate this winter, we won’t see their full benefit until next winter after four more are installed in spring, and the project is completed.

This new technology heralds a shift in Canada that Steinkogler has noticed.

“It’s a change in attitude,” Walter said. “When I was here the first time, which is now eight years ago I think, people were telling me, ‘We shut down the highway or Rogers Pass for hours or even days, that’s normal’ and I was shocked because that would never happen in Europe.

“It’s exciting to get to be part of this huge change going on in Canada. I think this project is just the start.”

A similar project in Rogers Pass is being looked at for next year.

This article was first published in the December issue of the free Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

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