Gazex avy system deemed success by WP Resort, CDOT

The Gazex avalanche mitigation system was in use all winter on Berthoud Pass, and many people feel it was a successful first season.

According to the CDOT website, there are 25 slide paths that CDOT and CAIC crews monitor and/or control on Berthoud Pass. The paths counted are those that have the potential to impact the highway. The largest slide path, and the one containing the Gazex system is the Stanley Slide. The Gazex system has replaced previous traditional avalanche mitigation methods using artillery shells and explosives.

According to the Gazex website, the system explodes an oxygen/propane gas mixture in specifically designed exploder tubes located at the top end of risk zones. The exploders are connected to gas storage tanks with capacities high enough to operate for the whole season without re-filling. The system is composed of a tube and a steel elbow with a high impact strength, and is strengthened more by metallization.

When the gas mixture explodes, the force of the explosion is directed towards the snow causing a direct push into snow under the open end of the exploder, a shock wave that produces an overpressure and then a negative pressure that lifts up the snow, and an indirect sympathetic effect on the adjacent snow mantle causing a slide. According to the website, the Gazex system has several benefits: a very short activation time of two or three minutes, ability to release in all climatic conditions, optimal safety since operators do not have to handle explosives, low cost per explosion, easy to use, and “progressive investment” because one shelter can operate up to ten exploders.

“The Gazex system on Berthoud Pass worked to perfection last winter and a lot of credit has to be given to CDOT for having the foresight to recognize the need for avalanche mitigation in the area and install a system that has worked so well,” said Steve Hurlbert, Winter Park Resort Director of Public Relations and Communications.

“Berthoud Pass is the lifeline not just to Winter Park Resort, but to our entire community, and lengthy closures can have a crippling effect on our economy as well as pose serious safety concerns in case of emergencies. Gazex has not only safely and efficiently mitigated avalanches, it has kept this vital lifeline open on a more consistent basis for Grand County’s visitors and citizens alike.”

CDOT Region 3 Communications Manager Tracy Trulove said CDOT agreed on the success of the system. CDOT used the Berthoud Gazex system about 12 times during 2015-16 winter season, and that it seemed to be very effective, she said.

Traditional avalanche control is still used on the “80s Slide Path” on Berthoud, but Trulove said CDOT is beginning to look at adding Gazex to this area as well.

The project does not have funding yet and is in the very early stages, but the potential for additional Gazex systems on Berthoud is prominent.

Trulove said the Gazex systems made Berthoud easier to clear because there were not huge slides that took many hours to clean up, but rather smaller slides that could be removed more quickly. She also pointed out the improved safety of avalanche mitigation using Gazex since the system is remote controlled.

During this past winter the longest Berthoud Pass was closed for avalanche control/removal was about 1.5-2 hours, Trulove said. This, she said, is compared to previous years before Gazex when the pass could be closed for half a day.

Fraser Town Manager Jeff Durbin said he felt the Gazex system was a great project, though he did not personally have the data to back it up.

The Town of Winter Park was unavailable for comment on the success of the Gazex system.

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