Howitzer, military keeps Rogers Pass safe

Members of 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery instruct Parks Canada Agency staff on how to position the site on the C3 Howitzer gun. Photo by SLt Melissa Kia, Public Affairs Officer, MARPAC

Members of 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery instruct Parks Canada Agency staff on how to position the site on the C3 Howitzer gun. Photo by SLt Melissa Kia, Public Affairs Officer, MARPAC

SLt Melissa J Kia, MARPAC PAO ~

Deep in the heart of Glacier National Park, the majestic mountains in Rogers Pass put even the loftiest skyscrapers to shame. They form a deep and impressive valley containing both the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway corridors that connect British Columbia to the rest of Canada.

This area is also home to some of the most treacherous avalanche country in the nation, containing over 134 known avalanche pathways. 

To counter this winter threat, Parks Canada Agency (PCA) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) run the avalanche control program, Operation Palaci, which first started in 1961. Operation Palaci stays true to its Latin name by taking care of Canada’s “palace” in the sky, keeping it safe for trains and winter commuters to make the leg from Golden to Revelstoke, B.C., at the western side of the Pass. 

Palaci has led the charge in the battle for winter avalanche safety for the past 56 consecutive years, making it Canada’s oldest and longest running domestic operation.

Avalanche control is serious business and is run by joint agency collaboration between the CAF and PCA. Over 4,000 vehicles and up to 40 trains crisscross Rogers Pass each day during the winter months. Keeping the Pass open amounts to billions of dollars in commercial trade annually, and road and rail closures due to an avalanche cause substantial impacts on the Canadian economy.

“Operation Palaci is the largest mobile avalanche control program of its kind in North America,” says Captain Mark Hynes of Maritime Forces Pacific’s Land Operations cell. “We are extremely proud of our continuing partnership with PCA and our role in keeping Canadians safe each winter.”  

Parks Canada employees in Rogers Pass have a big role to play during Operation Palaci. They work as research specialists in snow science by measuring the snow types and levels which impact the mountains surrounding Roger’s Pass. They also play a prevention role by predicting potential hazardous slide areas within the hundreds of avalanche paths that cross the 39 kilometre stretch of the transportation corridor.

Whenever they need to prevent a big slide, PCA calls in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery’s 105mm Howitzers. The guns are positioned on one of the 17 specialized rings that line the highway, and traffic is halted while the artillery crews go to work keeping the roads and rails safe. Shells are fired at over 300 known avalanche trigger points identified by PCA, creating smaller, controlled slides that keep the snowpack from building into a naturally occurring uncontrolled avalanche which can threaten the Pass and its users.

This year, the CAF portion of Operation Palaci will be carried out in two rotations. Both rotations will comprise 17 members from 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based out of CFB Shilo, Manitoba, and augmented by various reserve artillery units.

For more information on Operation Palaci please visit: www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-canada-north-america-recurring/op-palaci.page

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