Avalanche Safety – Shedding Light on the Snow Shed

Avalanche safety for BC Drivers

Hwy 1’s Jack MacDonald Snow Shed is 141m

Have you ever heard the term, “snow shed” and wondered what it is? Well, it’s not a place where we keep extra snow. Actually, it’s more like a tunnel – a concrete cover built over the road to protect traffic from avalanches.

Snow sheds are designed to withstand the incredible forces involved with vast amounts of sliding snow, however they’re not meant to stop it. Instead, the sheds deflect the snow, allowing it to pass over top while traffic continues to flow underneath.

There are several snow sheds throughout the province, and Ministry looks after four of them: three on Highway 1 and one on Highway 5 (the Coquihalla). Parks Canada looks after five others, all located in Glacier National Park by Rogers Pass on Highway 1.

Snow sheds are an excellent way to keep travellers safe and traffic moving, but they’re not the only way we protect the roads.

Avalanche Safety on Trans Canada Highway

Hwy 1’s Lanark Snow Shed is 316m long, our longest one.

Where the risk to the travelling public isn’t as severe, there are a number of simple, but very practical solutions. Things like earthen mounds to stop or turn avalanches away from the road, or catchment basins built just above the highway to catch snow and debris. While there are a lot of examples of these on our mountainous highways, it can sometimes be hard to pick them out. That’s because we usually encourage plants to grow on them to make them more stable and better able to handle an avalanche.

There are many other ways we keep travellers safe from avalanches, too. In fact, we’ve got an entire team dedicated to doing just that, and you can look forward to finding out more about their stories in the near future.

Avalanche Safety on Trans Canada Highway

Twins Snow Shed on Hwy 1 – 188m long

Coquihalla Highway 5 second longest snow shed

Coquihalla’s Great Bear Snow Shed – 285m long

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7 Responses to Avalanche Safety – Shedding Light on the Snow Shed

  1. Brian on October 12, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    We travel the Hwy one to Calgary a few times every year. Why do not all the snow sheds have ights in them. There appears to be power readily available. Then even with lights they are not always on. I find this unbelievable and extremely dangerous. People have died in them.

    • tranbceditor on October 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Good question! All snow sheds on BC highways under the control of the provincial government have lights. However, some portions of BC highways fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government (those in federally controlled national parks specifically) and the stretch of BC highway 1 in Rogers Pass is one of them. Because of the remote location of federal parks, federal snow sheds often do not have an accessible power source to add lights, and therefore rely on people turning their headlights on, which therefore replicates nighttime driving. Hope that this helps. Here is a blog with a bit more information about federally vs provincially run highways: http://tranbc.ca/2013/06/25/share-and-share-alike-federal-sections-on-provincial-highways/#sthash.uocqnabM.dpbs

  2. Vin on December 10, 2015 at 7:02 am

    I noticed a few of the highway workers shoveling a circular area off to the side of the road (in multiple spots) before a planned avalanche control on the Rogers pass. What were they doing??thanks

    • tranbceditor on December 10, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Hi Vin,

      Good question! These circular platforms are locations where 105mm howitzers are placed. The howitzer fires a projectile with pin point accuracy to avalanche start zone target points during highway closures to create artificial avalanches. There are 2 kg of high explosive that detonate on contact creating a very effective trigger. This method of control ensures safety to highway users and minimizes duration of avalanche related highway closures. Rogers Pass is a federally maintained portion of BC Highway 1. Here is a link for more information: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/protecting-the-pass-military-fires-shells-into-mountains-to-limit-avalanches/article23368022/
      Hope that this helps. Thanks for connecting with us here.

  3. Tony on July 25, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Re: snowshed, Coquihalla Hwy. A suggestion for emergency signage at or near the Zopkios brake check area before the downhill approach to the Sonwshed. I always worry that there is an accident in the snowshed, the curve in the snowshed hides any incident in the snowshed. As I descend the hill I always check that traffic is coming out the south end of the snowshed as an indicator that there isn’t likely an accident in the shed. I drive the Coquihalla up to 10 times per year and have since it opened. Fortunately, there has not been an accident when I’ve gone through the shed. If there was, there would be chains of secondary accidents as cars and trucks plow non stop into the stopped vehicles. If there is an accident in the snowshed, there should be emergency, highly visible signage southbound near the exit of the Zopkios brake check, that would give drivers, especially of trucks to slow down and stop if needed. The Ministry would need to figure out how the signage would be triggered though, in time to be effective without false positives. Also the speed down hill at 120 km/hr is too fast for anyone to stop in time by the time they see an accident in the snowshed. Please take some action to mitigate the risks in the snowshed.

    • tranbceditor on July 25, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for sharing your long experience with driving the Coquihalla Highway, and your thoughtful suggestions to improve safety around the snowshed and Zopkios brake check area. I will forward your comments to our people who are responsible for the Coq.

      • tranbceditor on July 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm

        Hi Tony,

        The folks in the district tell me that we now have an overhead changeable message sign at Falls Lake, just prior to the Zopkias Brake check that can provide warnings and advice.

        With the new variable speed zone, regulatory speeds will be adjusted as congestion occurs, to improve safety. See: http://tranbc.ca/2015/12/02/variablespeedlimitsigns/#sthash.5nwan0Na.dpbs Please note, installation of the variable speed zone system was just completed and is currently under configuration and monitoring. Additional signage may be considered.

        There also have been signage upgrades along the down gradiant on approach to the snowshed, to warn of limited visibility within the snowshed.

        I hope you find these recent improvements beneficial.

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