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Avalanches

Kootenay Pass, British Columbia - Jan. 2013

Last year, Mark Robinson and I traveled to Kootenay Pass in British Columbia as part of our epic, cross Canada road trip, filming for The Weather Network. We tried to film with the avalanche control team there, but the weather did not cooperate, and the snow pack was stable. This year, we returned, with the sole intention of documenting avalanches. This time, the weather worked out.
 
We were even able to do some amazing things such as broadcast an avalanche on LIVE TV and place a camera in the path of an avalanche for a direct hit!
 
Videos

Outrunning an Avalanche

Putting a camera in front of an Avalanche

Avalanche on LIVE TV
Dramatic video - Outrunning an oncoming avalanche.

Putting a camera in front of an avalanche for a direct hit!

 Broadcasting an avalanche on LIVE TV for The Weather Network.
 
 
 

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An avalanche coming down through the trees.
An avalanche coming down through the trees.

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In the truck as the snow comes down and hits the road. A direct hit for my Crash-Cam which was placed in the path of this avalanche.
Digging the Crash-Cam out from the snow after taking a direct hit from an avalanche.
GazEx Cannons
GazEx Cannons use a combination of propane and oxygen to produce an explosive blast that dislodges the snow pack to create man-made controlled avalanches. Kootenay Pass has 23 of these cannons, each permanently mounted in a strategic spot where avalanches have happened historically. They can be detonated remotely, from a building nearby.

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GazEx detonation.

GazEx detonation, closer view.

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GazEx detonation.
Typical scenery not far from one of the GazEx sites.
 
Daisy Bell
The Daisy Bell is a portable avalanche triggering device made by the same company as the GazEx cannons. It is suspended by a longline underneath a helicopter and uses a combination of hydrogen and oxygen that fill a sturdy metal bell which is then detonated over an avalanche start zone. This system is good for triggering avalanches in tough to reach areas that don't have a permanent GazEx cannon installed. The Daisy Bell can be fired off several times a minute, making it very efficient .

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The Daisy Bell attached to the helicopter's longline.
The Daisy Bell avalanche triggering device.

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The chopper & Daisy Bell getting into position.
The snow flying around is from the helicopter downwash. The Daisy Bell device is in position to detonate, but did not produce an avalanche this time.
 
Heli-Bombing
Sometimes, gas cannons just don't do the trick and the avalanche control crew will occasionally have to use some of the older, tried and true methods of triggering slides... By tossing large quantities of explosives out the door of a helicopter.

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Loading up the explosives into the helicopter.
Double fuses, blasting caps, a main charge & ANFO. Ready to fly!

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Chopper getting into position, notice the GazEx cannon in the background.
Bombs away. The fuses take about 2 1/2 minutes.

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Boom!
Another Boom!

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Dropping another pack of explosives.
Boom!
 
Avalanche Rescue Dog
Trained dogs are very good at finding people buried under the snow by an avalanche. We tested the skills of Aquillo, a retired avalanche rescue dog, and she still has her skills. It only took her seconds to find our two buried Weather Network folks.
 
The real issue is getting one onto the scene quickly enough to save someone. This is extremely rare, and they are usually used for body recovery only.

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Dog
Aquillo, ready to get to work.
Aquillo wastes no time and finds Kelsey in about 10 seconds.

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Being buried in the snow is no hiding place from an avalanche dog. We buried Kelsey McEwan and the dog found her in seconds.
Stormhunter, Mark Robinson also got buried. He too, was found within seconds.
 
Filming with The Weather Network

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This is how we know we're in the right place.
Avalanche zone sign.

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We teamed up with the local Weather Network crew from Calgary and spent 4 nights in Nelson & Kootenay Pass, B.C.
Filming a scene, interviewing Rob, the director of the avalanche program.

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Motorists have to wait as the highway gets shut down for the explosive avalanche triggering. It's for their own good.
Cleanup. Several avalanches came down onto the road and the heavy machinery is standing by to make the cleanup quick so the road can re-open as soon as possible.

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Not one, but two helicopters. One for doing the explosive control and the second one for air to air filming.
Rob demonstrates an avalanche airbag. It is similar to a parachute. Pull the ripcord on your backpack and a balloon rapidly inflates to protect your head and keep you buoyant in case you get caught up in an avalanche.

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My ride for the day.
In the helicopter during a Daisy Bell mission. It gets really cold in there with the doors off!

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Rob, in the helicopter, deciding where to detonate the Daisy Bell.
A view of Kootenay Pass from the air.

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Takeoff!
Me, getting a unique filming angle from underneath the helicopter as it takes off. Windy but worth it.

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Beautiful British Columbia
Beautiful British Columbia

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I could not have planned this better. The bighorn sheep in B.C. are smart. They can even read signs!
Winter in the prairies, on the way home to Ontario.

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Deer at the Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta
Deer at the Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta