DENVER (KDVR) — An avalanche can have devastating and costly impacts, especially if it happens near a busy road. The Colorado Department of Transportation prevents this from happening by breaking up the heavy snow with explosions.

CDOT uses projectiles or bombs to trigger avalanches and knock down the snow. They work with forecasters who let them know if a road is at risk. When that happens, they shut down the road and use one of their tools.

Avalanche prevention tools ‘paying for themselves’

In dozens of locations, like the Eisenhower tunnel, they use a device called an O’Bellx. It’s a gas exploder that uses a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to create a detonation just above the snow’s surface.

They put multiple devices in place ahead of time and then they can use a computer to set them off.

“It makes us a lot quicker at doing the work, so we can close the road at 5 in the morning, come in do the work and be open by 6 or 7, and hopefully the public doesn’t even know we were there,” Jamie Yount with CDOT said.

When it comes to maintenance and operation, avalanche mitigation came with a price tag of $548,643 in 2022. It’s cost more than $233,000 so far this year — a cost that CDOT says is worth it in the long run.

“An hour of road closure on I-70 is about a million dollars in economic loss,” Yount said. “If we’re able to do this work a lot quicker and more efficiently and effectively, and keep the avalanches smaller and keep those road closures shorter, then the systems are def paying for themselves over time.”