New Avalanche Technology Reduces Road Closures And Dangers

Nov 29, 2016

WYDOT installed the first avalanche gas exploders in North America in 2013.
Credit WYDOT

Avalanches can be dangerous and shut down highways on many of the roads going in and out of the Jackson area, especially on Highway 191 through Hoback Canyon. But in the last few years, the Wyoming Department of Transportation has been installing new technology there that’s helped control the problem.

Avalanche technician Jamie Yount said in 2013, they installed the first remotely controlled avalanche exploders in North America. He said the new equipment now allows WYDOT to trigger avalanches on their own schedule and on a closed highway.

“Those exploders use hydrogen and oxygen to produce an avalanche and they’re remotely operated with a computer and radio,” said Yount. “But they can be deployed and retrieved with a helicopter.”

Sitting high on the mountain side, Yount said the equipment looks other worldly.

“It’s kind of a big bell shape. It kind of looks like a small rocket ship almost,” said Yount. “And so a helicopter can just latch onto it with a mechanical grabber that we use on the helicopter’s long line.”

Yount said, in the past, the avalanches were triggered with military artillery that could literally be hit or miss. Although the cost of the new remote exploders were expensive—Yount said around $150,000—they require less man power and have reduced road closure times by almost an hour.