Denver7 crew gets exclusive look into CDOT's avalanche mitigation process

Mad-made avalanche spills created by CDOT

CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo.  -- More than 400 avalanche passes threaten Colorado's transportation system every year, but in order to prevent a potentially deadly disaster in the winter, CDOT prepares during the fall by creating man-made avalanche spills — and Denver7 got an exclusive look into the process to make roads safer for both residents and tourists alike. 

Colorado averages roughty 3,000 avalanches a year. Some can be deadly, others destructive to towns. And a lot of them lead to major traffic delays, which is why CDOT highway maintenance supervisor Cane Schneider is prepping his 11-man crew by hooking propane and oxygen tanks on top of Loveland Pass, so they can create a man-made avalanche spill. 

“We got to have the system online and ready to go before mother nature says, 'hey, it's time for an avalanche,” Schneider said. “We want to bring the snow out rather than mother nature. Makes it a lot safer for the traveling public." 

Denver7’s Sally Mamdooh tagged along with the CDOT crew as they gave her an exclusive look behind-the-scenes into how they work on reducing the risk of an avalanche threat.

In groups, crews were airlifted to the top, then the propane and oxygen tanks were airlifted. Crews then hooked up oxygen lines to the storage units that connect to the exploder. The avalanche mitigation process takes up to five hours and ends with a firing test. The test is done by a remote avalanche control system called Gazex that explodes a mixture of propane and oxygen gas inside the exploder tube. The explosion creates a shockwave that moves the snow. 

Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, told Denver7 these intentional spills are vital to Denver metro highways.

“There is an avalanche threat over US 40, over Berthoud Pass; US 6 over Loveland Pass all along I-70 from Georgetown to the town of Vail,” said Greene. 

Colorado averages about six avalanche deaths a year. To monitor road conditions just head to following link: www.cotrip.org.

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