Avalanche Droids: New Advances in Avalanche Safety For Wyoming Highways

Robin Azer | | AvalancheAvalanche

Hoback Canyon, Wyoming: Shorter delays in travel are now possible for drivers along the 191 Highway in the Hoback Canyon area of Wyoming. The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is now utilizing avalanche droids to trigger an avalanche on command. Located 15 miles south of Jackson, Highway 191 clings to the walls of the canyon and is notorious for delays due to avalanche closures.

The Hoback Canyon doesn’t have the skier concerns of the Teton Pass, but it has other challenges. Namely, gnarly terrain. This limits the access for avalanche control, which impacts travel.

Officially known as an O’Belix Exploder, these aluminum cones are deposited in avalanche resistant areas, via helicopter, during the summer. They can then be remotely ignited from a safe location during the winter, when needed. Each droid weighs about 1,400 pounds and can be fired about nine times before needing to be reloaded. They run about $145,000 a piece, but allow WYDOT to proactively reduce highway closures and add to the safety of travel along the highway.

“For this terrain that’s really difficult to access, that’s the real advantage. You can retrieve it by helicopter without having to go up there. We are going to phase out of artillery in one more year.”

“We’ve gone down to the Hoback and done avalanche control in 7 minutes. I think it’s a worthy investment.”

Jamie Yount, WYDOT avalanche technician

These O’Belix droids are one of several mitigation techniques used by WYDOT. Traditionally, avalanches were triggered with artillery or by dropping hand charges from a helicopter, both more risky as well as difficult. These new droids are set to replace the use of artillery as early as next year.

The O’Bellx exploder dwarfs a worker in the Cow of the Woods avalanche path in the Hoback Canyon. The device enables an operator to set off an explosion to provoke an avalanche while safely protected from the snowslide far away. The new contraptions can be removed, serviced, and replaced by helicopter. (WYDOT)
The O’Bellx exploder dwarfs a worker in the Cow of the Woods avalanche path in the Hoback Canyon. The device enables an operator to set off an explosion to provoke an avalanche while safely protected from the snowslide far away. The new contraptions can be removed, serviced, and replaced by helicopter. (WYDOT)

Tips for safe travel in winter: 

  • Make sure has tank is full.
  • Check once or twice a month to ensure tire pressure and treads are good.
  • Have an emergency kit that contains water, nonperishable food, flares, a shovel and a blanket.
  • Stay with your vehicle if you get stuck or in an accident
  • Always make sure your cellphone is charged or bring a charger with you so you can call for help if you need.
  • Make sure your windshield is clear of debris.

WYDOT

 


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