Soldiers deep in avalanche country keeping roadways clear

soldiers load the 105mm Howitzer for avalanche control

Operation Palaci personnel load and fire the 105mm Howitzer artillery cannon used by Operation Palaci for avalanche control in the Selkirk Mountains.

Operation Palaci is the contribution by the Canadian Forces (CF) to Parks Canada’s avalanche-control program in Rogers Pass, where the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway cross the Selkirk Mountains.

The objective of Operation Palaci is to prevent naturally occurring avalanches, and to ensure road and rail links between coastal B.C. and the rest of Canada are not blocked.

This is done by firing shells from C3 105mm Howitzer cannons into rock formations to reduce natural avalanches.

“If Parks Canada is surprised by an avalanche, roads and railways can stay closed for days,” says MBdr Rebecca Bliss-Roth, a member of 10th Field Regiment Artillery unit of Regina, Saskatchewan, who has been stationed in the Rogers Pass since Nov. 21. “This way they’re ready for them and can clear the road relatively quickly while keeping the pass safe.”

So far this season, 52 controlled avalanches have been triggered and 82 rounds have been fired.

Op Palaci draws upon reserve and regular forces members from across Canada. The first rotation started Nov. 21 and includes members from BC, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. They are stationed in a Parks Canada compound near the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. The compound includes separate rooms for each participant, a full kitchen, full laundry, and common room with amenities such as satellite TV and movies. Despite these creature comforts MBdr Bliss-Roth says cabin fever tends to set in from time to time.

“We’re basically in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is something like 30 kilometres away, so we don’t really get out there too often.”

When not performing avalanche control, military personnel undertake periods of professional development, occasionally busying themselves in the woodworking shop also located at the Parks Canada compound.

“It’s a good way to take our mind off things,” says MBdr Bliss-Roth. “I made a butterfly board one day, which we use to site the guns.”
When things really get slow, Operation Palaci personnel are able to take some time to enjoy the snow.

“Sometimes our Parks Canada colleagues will haul us up the hill on tubes tied to the back of Bobcat snow ploughs,” says MBdr Bliss-Roth, laughing. “That’s a good time, unless you go off the side of the trail, which I did. I ran right into a tree. Luckily I just got a little banged up.”

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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