Berthoud Pass gets new avalanche control system to ensure driver safety along highway
O'Bellx systems installed on 80's slide path near Current Creek
January 18, 2019
Not far from the top of Berthoud Pass, on Grand County's side of the Continental Divide, there is a small avalanche slide path known as 80’s.
The avalanche path, which crosses U.S. Highway 40 a short distance southeast of Current Creek, was once a designated trail of the old Berthoud Pass Ski Area. Last fall, officials from Colorado's Department of Transportation, or CDOT, installed a new remote avalanche control device on 80's to help ensure no unexpected avalanches affect highway drivers.
The new system, called O'Bellx, is similar to the Gazex remote avalanche control system already installed on the opposite side of Berthoud Pass on the Stanley slide path, albeit significantly smaller.
"O'Bellx is made by the same manufacturer as Gasex," explained Jamie Yount, Avalanche Program Manager for CDOT. "Both are remotely operated gas exploders. There are definitely advantages to each one. O'Bellx is a lot easier to build but has a smaller volume of gas."
Unlike the Gasex system on Stanley, which uses propane and oxygen gas stored at a central location for multiple exploders, the O'Bellx system uses a hydrogen and oxygen gas mixture. The gas is held within the O'Bellx exploder itself. According to Yount, each O'Bellx exploder can be fired 22 times before its gas supply must be replaced.
"That is the big advantage," Yount said. "When we need to resupply we don't have to go on the mountainside to do that. We hire a helicopter to go and get it and bring it down to flat ground. The Gasex system is great but we have to get up on the mountain to do maintenance work."
According to Yount, the decision to install O'Bellx on 80's was a result of the prevalence of traffic impacting slides on that avalanche path. The Stanley slide path and 80's are the two avalanche paths on Berthoud that slide most frequently.
"It (80's) is not the world's largest slide path by any means," Yount said. "But it can put a lot of snow on the highway."
The O'Bellex system itself is a bell shaped apparatus that sits atop a tall metal tower. The O'Bellex bell is simply lowered onto the stand at the top of the pole and, according to Yount, is held in place by gravity.
The process of constructing and installing the new O'Bellx systems kicked off late last summer. Workers poured foundations and erected towers during the summer and fall of 2018. The O'Bellx systems arrived from France shortly after Christmas. The two O'Bellx systems were installed on Jan. 3. They are now operational and can be used by CDOT as needed, though so far they have only been test fired.
There are two O'Bellx systems on 80’s, complimenting the five Gasex exploders on Stanley. The two O'Bellx are the first such systems to be installed by CDOT, though additional O'Bellx have been installed on Loveland Pass. Yount said the state plans to install more O'Bellx on Wolf Creek Pass this coming summer and has plans to construct a Gasex system for Monarch Pass this year as well.
Overall, CDOT has 36 separate gas exploders, including both Gasex and O'Bellx systems, along the I-70 mountain corridor, which includes Berthoud Pass.