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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4 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.

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