Remote avalanche control system proposed for Berthoud Pass
Ryan Summerlin February 9, 2012
T.A.S. Gazex, a French company that makes remote-controlled avalanche-control systems, has proposed that its equipment be used on Berthoud Pass.
Town Manager Drew Nelson mentioned during the Feb. 7 Winter Park Town Council meeting that he, Mayor Jim Meyers, and officials from Winter Park Resort, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the U.S. Forest Service had attended a Gazex presentation.
The system could potentially replace existing avalanche-control procedures and allow for more efficiencies, said company officials. It could also help prevent road closures that result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue to the resort and town businesses, officials said.
According to the company website, the Gazex system detonates an oxygen-propane mixture in individually designed exploder tubes located at the top of avalanche risk zones. The exploders are connected to gas storage tanks.
When the gas mixture explodes, the force of the explosion is directed toward the snow, producing a direct push into the snowpack under the open end of the exploder. The resulting shockwave lifts up the snow, causing it to slide.
This remote-controlled system is considered to be more effective and safer than other systems, according to the website.
The current system of avalanche-control does work, but there might be a way to do it differently, said Nelson.
The Winter Park Town Council would need to find money in the town budget in order to seriously consider it; however, the process is at least months away.
Nelson has an engineer studying the costs, and CDOT must agree to accept the project first. Meyers said he has talked to representatives on transportation committees and wants to consider this option for safety reasons.
The next step for the council is to see a product demonstration, possibly in May, and then find funding for the project.
Eric Lieberman is president of High Angle Construction of California, which has installed this system in several locations. The Gazex system has been used at Wolf Creek Ski Area since 2002 with eight units in place, and two more units are scheduled to be installed this summer, he said.
The president of Wolf Creek initially bought the system to showcase it to CDOT for use on US Highway 160 near the resort, according to Lieberman.
It is the only Gazex installation in Colorado.
CDOT’s currently preferred method to control avalanches is firing artillery shells to cause controlled slides, he said.
The cost for a turnkey Gazex system is $100,000-$150,000.
Gazex has nine clients with 72 units in the U.S. including the states of Wyoming, California, and Utah, Lieberman said. There are four units on Teton Pass connecting Idaho to Jackson Hole, Wyo., three units on the highway connecting Incline Village to Reno, Nev., and two units in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.