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New Technology Could Improve Avalanche Control Over Berthoud Pass

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Peter Pereira from Centennial sent in this photo of Berthoud Pass on Dec. 18, 2009.

Peter Pereira from Centennial sent in this photo of Berthoud Pass on Dec. 18, 2009.

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EMPIRE, Colo. (CBS4)- Dangerous avalanche conditions are forming in Colorado’s High Country. The avalanche danger in many parts of the mountains is rated as “considerable.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation is considering a new program for a large slide path hanging over Berthoud Pass.

Avalanches have closed Highway 40 several times. Now CDOT crews are hoping to improve the current system of avalanche control.

“The impacts of an avalanche hitting the highway are tremendous,” said CDOT Program Engineer Peter Kozinski.

Kozinski believes the current system of avalanche control is becoming outdated.

“When you look at what we’re currently using we’re using munitions and equipment basically from WWII,” said Kozinski.

Right now crews will close the road, fire a shell to trigger an avalanche and then clear the snow from the highway. It can leave drivers stuck in traffic and pose hazards for the crew clearing the snow.

Now CDOT is looking at new technology.

“It’s a completely new concept. Basically a sonic explosion,” said Kozinski.

A permanent device will be placed at the top of known avalanche paths along Berthoud Pass. The device will use propane to create explosions.

Those explosions are activated from a remote location and more often than traditional triggers currently used.

The Gazex System is already being used in Europe where it has had success.

“Bring down smaller amounts on a more regular basis so you never have the build up that has the potential to cross the road,” said Kozinski.

The Gazex System is also quicker which means road closures wouldn’t last as long.

“We could do it at first light. We don’t currently shoot the howitzer until it gets a little lighter that way maybe we could miss peak travel time,” said Kozinski. “There are a lot of states around the west that have used this and are very happy with it. We’re anxious to try it here in Colorado.”

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