Caltrans District 10 Avalanche Control Program Celebrates 50 Years

Brave Crews Have Kept Sierra Motorists Safe for Decades

By Bob Highfill, Public Information Officer

There is a picturesque stretch of State Route 88 high in California’s Sierra Nevada that happens to be one of the most active avalanche zones above a highway in North America with two avalanche prone passes – the Carson Pass and the Carson Avalanche Control Program Spur.

Since 1972, the brave, hard-working crews in the Caltrans Avalanche Control Program, based at District 10’s Caples Lake Maintenance Station in Alpine County, have kept the traveling public safe from potentially devastating avalanches by implementing controlled measures to stabilize or release unstable snowpack.

This year, the Highway 88 Caltrans Avalanche Control Program celebrated its 50th anniversary.

For 50 years, Caltrans has helped keep this important mountain highway open during the winter season and the traveling public safe from potential danger.

To perform its important functions, Caltrans maintains a network of avalanche control devices along the ridge high above Route 88.

Avalanche Control Program

There are 15 “exploders” positioned above the Carson Spur and another nine above Red Lake. These exploders, called the GazEx system, are comprised of tubes that are mounted in the start zone pointing downward.  They are activated remotely and with a mixture of propane and oxygen, emit a powerful detonation to settle or dislodge the snow.

Where there are stubborn accumulations, crews frequently use a SnoCat to get above the road and drop hand charges to dislodge the snow.

Crews also can fire artillery shells to blast areas that other methods can’t reach.

Once the fallen snow hits the road, crews go to work to clear a path so motorists can once again travel through the area safely.

The Avalanche Control Program has had an immeasurable, positive impact on motorists who use Route 88 to connect with the mountain communities it serves.

Detonation Final MomentEach year, hundreds of thousands travel on Route 88 to enjoy the natural attractions and bask in the beauty of the Sierra, as well as stay at the resorts and visit the outdoor recreation sites and businesses along this corridor. Their economic well-being is dependent on this access, so it’s vitally important Route 88 is open as much as possible.

The Caples Lake Maintenance station is at 7,600 feet elevation and its crew typically handles 75 to 100 assignments each season – continually monitoring the avalanche hazard level and acting to mitigate each hazard in the most timely and effective manner possible.

A big thank you to the Caltrans Avalanche Control Program and the Caples Lake Avalanche Crew on its 50th anniversary for helping make sure that our state routes in the Sierra remain open and safe for motorists.