Colorado announces avalanche control project on US 550

© Colorado DOT

The Colorado Department of Transportation said motorists along US 550 over Red Mountain Pass can expect travel delays as the state mobilizes equipment to control avalanches.

The project, between Silverton and Ouray, Colo., will see crews installing remote avalanche control systems at three known slide path locations – at Blue Point and Blue Willow slide paths (Mile Point 81), and near the Alpine Loop at the Mother Cline slide path (Mile Point 89).

Crews will install fixed avalanche control systems and construct their concrete bases and control shelters. The systems operate by mixing oxygen and propane in an exploder nozzle at the top of high-risk zones. When the gas mixture explodes, the force of the explosion is directed down at the snow which produces a controlled avalanche, officials said.

“These are the first fixed systems to be installed on US 550, and the units are being set at the most ideal locations to more effectively trigger these known slide paths,” CDOT Southwest Region Transportation Director Julie Constan said. “As in other locations across our state’s mountain passes, the remote-controlled systems will enable more efficient avalanche control, making the areas safer for CDOT crews and travelers.”

The systems at Blue Point/Blue Willow will remain in place all year, while the three systems put in place at Mother Cline will include fixed permanent bases with portable units holding the gases that will require resetting each winter.

The units are controlled remotely to reduce the amount of time spent on avalanche control missions. New systems will also boost safety for crews who handle explosives, officials said.

“Mother Cline and Blue Point/Blue Willow are our most active avalanche slide paths on US 550, and the Blue Point area is also a very popular spot for back-country skiers,” CDOT Maintenance Area Supervisor Vance Kelso said. “With these remote systems, we can more effectively bring snow down during peak conditions, often at night, before the sun hits the paths and hardens the snow surface. Then, we can clear the debris on the highway before morning and have things opened back up for the traveling public.”