Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Glacier National Park


The combination of heavy snowfall and steep terrain makes the area prone to avalanches. The slide paths stretch from the tree line to the valley floor. It is estimated that at least 20% of Glacier National Park is subject to avalanches, with snow roaring down the mountains at speeds up to 325 km/hour. Between 1885 and 1911, more than 200 people lost their lives in avalanches trying to maintain the railway line through Rogers Pass. Unable to control the snow, the CPR decided to avoid the pass and built the Connaught Tunnel under Mt. Macdonald, bypassing 16 kilometres of the treacherous Rogers Pass.


When the Trans-Canada Highway opened to the public in 1962, it too followed the route through Rogers Pass, so avalanche warning was a top priority. Elaborate snow sheds cover some of the most dangerous sections of road, but science and technology have given us additional defences.


Glacier National Park is headquarters for one of the most advanced avalanche monitoring programmes in the world. The Avalanche Control Group measures the snow pack and its volatility and, if necessary, orders a controlled slide. A special detachment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery is directed to shoot an explosive shell from a 105 mm Howitzer at the specified target. There are more than 200 targets high up in the mountains surrounding the Pass which are used to trigger avalanches before they get too big. A successful shot will cause the unstable snow layers to shift, releasing an avalanche safely, when the highway is closed.

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