There are 278 avalanche paths above Colorado highways

Winter is right around the corner and the Colorado Department of Transportation is preparing for another season of controlling avalanches.

KUSA - With winter right around the corner, the Colorado Department of Transportation is preparing for another season of controlling avalanches.

There are 278 avalanche paths above Colorado highways, meaning constant work for CDOT crews. One of their techniques is to remotely trigger avalanches with a system called Gazex. This marks the third season using that technology in Colorado.

Gazex blasts compressed air onto an avalanche path. This triggers a slide remotely before the snow can pile up and cause a major natural avalanche.

Friday, CDOT crews were on Berthoud Pass doing maintenance on those systems above U.S. Highway 40. A spokesperson for CDOT told 9NEWS they are very happy with the first two seasons using this system.

It saves them money by not having to use the expensive missiles they use with their Avalaunchers, and it saves time on the roads as well due to less closures.

There are already 16 Gazex air cannons operational in Colorado. Those are located on Berthoud Pass and Loveland Pass. CDOT is looking at expanding to more locations in the state.

One of the great benefits of this system is that it can be remotely triggered from a laptop at any time. So they don’t have to wait for winter storm conditions to clear before blasting -- they just have to close the highway. 

With the traditional Avalauncher -- which shoots actual missiles -- CDOT was limited to waiting for safe weather conditions. By that time, there could already be trouble on the highways.

In January of this year, there was an avalanche that crossed I-70 traffic. The slide came from Mt. Bethel on the north side of I-70 between Silver Plume and the Eisenhower-Johnson tunnels.

There is no Gazex system there yet, and on that day crews did not have a chance to bomb it before it let loose. This chute has hit I-70 several times through history.

CDOT says they will likely add more Gazex systems as funding comes available in the future.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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