Crews use howitzer to clear avalanche-prone Red Mountain Pass

Devin Neeley, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Updated: 02/02/2016 10:39 PM
Created: 02/02/2016 10:14 PM

RED MOUNTAIN PASS, CO -- Recent storms have left feet of new snowfall in the high country. In high mountain passes where there's a threat of avalanches along highways, crews do what they can to keep travelers safe. Sometimes, that requires military firepower.

"In order to keep the snow from hitting the road at the worst possible time, we go in and do some mitigation ahead of time," said John Palmer.

Palmer and crew were working to trigger avalanches and clear the resulting snow to make Red Mountain Pass Safe for travelers.

"If we keep these paths knocked down as best we can with explosives, that means it's less likely to come down in huge slab avalanches, which is one of the worst types," said Palmer. His crew was working to meet another crew from the north in the middle Tuesday.

The Colorado Department of Transportation uses several techniques to bring down snow in a controlled manner. The least expensive and most effective is a 105-millimeter howitzer leased from the U.S. Army.

"What we are trying to accomplish is keep people safe," he said.

Crews set up the WWII weapon on concrete pads across Red Mountain Pass, aim at pre-determined target zones and let 'er rip.

The 40-pound missile can fly up to 7 miles, and when it lands, a secondary charge breaks up snow and sends it down the mountain.

Tuesday's operation was a success, as crews safely moved the snow. The road has since reopened.

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