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Helicopter drops "turkey bombs" for avalanche mitigation along Independence Pass in Colorado

Helicopter drops "turkey bombs" for avalanche mitigation on Independence Pass in Colorado
Helicopter drops "turkey bombs" for avalanche mitigation on Independence Pass in Colorado 01:57

Usually avalanche mitigation with CDOT is done remotely these days along Interstate 70 and Berthoud Pass. But there are still a few spots where the best course of action to knock down snow that's piled up all winter is to throw bombs out of a helicopter takeoff. 

In a joint operation between the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Colorado Department of Transportation, a lone helicopter made multiple trips down to the Independence Pass highway road (still closed at this time) loaded up with what are called "turkey bombs," and flew up to the Beeler Grade along the road, dropping its payload on the cornices that have developed over the winter season. 


"They're fairly large, and they're drooping," CAIC Director Ethan Greene explained. "So we have a fair amount of mass up there that we're going to try to take care of today."

With 56 turkey bombs -- each weighing between 20 to 30 pounds, made up of ammonium nitrate and fuel -- CDOT carefully takes chunks out of the snow buildup, and watches as the snow rumbles down the mountain side, sometimes even making it to the road itself. It's different than what crews do with most spots in the state because of the lack of traffic demand, heavy snow fall, and lack of unlimited resources to install remote operated mitigation tools like in other locations.  

"It would be expensive, and it's a small number of vehicles that would come through this area anyway," explained Michael Chapman, CDOT winter operations program manager. 

But this work signals the opening of one of the most scenic passes we have in Colorado between Twin Lakes and Aspen, or at least in the next few weeks, assuming no additional late snow storms roll through. While not all the snow will be knocked down during this operation, CDOT will not stop until the road is good to go. 

"If the roads are open, you should drive with confidence," Greene said. 

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