The Colorado Department of Transportation every winter lobs 50-year-old munitions into snowy basins to trigger manageable avalanches before they threaten travelers.
On Berthoud Pass, the department is considering a step into the modern era with an automated, fixed avalanche-control system that would reduce the need for helicopters dropping explosives or World War II howitzers launching slide-triggering missiles.
Using an automated system - much like the Gazex propane-gas sonic-explosion system used in three Western states and Europe - would enable CDOT to trigger more frequent, lower-intensity slides that ideally would reduce road closures on the vital U.S. 40 stretch over Berthoud Pass.
"We may be in a situation where we never have an avalanche reach the road," said Peter Kozinski, CDOT's project engineer shepherding a potential pilot program that would test a fixed avalanche-control system in the massive Stanley slide path on the eastern side of Berthoud Pass. "We've been using the same technology for 70 years. This pilot program is about understanding the new technology."
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