Highway crews fight snow wars

Workers blasting away on both sides of the AK-Canada border

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

The Snow Wars continue on the road out of Skagway that connects Southeast Alaska to Canada.

State road crews this week plowed their way through several avalanches that blocked the Klondike Highway, which connects Skagway to Whitehorse and the Yukon Territory.

Workers also have been firing a compressed-air cannon, knocking down heavy snow along hillside chutes while clearing a highway that starts at sea level and rises more than 3,200 feet to the international border 15 miles north of town.

"They've been using the Avalauncher, which shoots a little bomb with fins on it," said Gary Hayden, Southeast director of maintenance for the state Department of Transportation. "It doesn't have the accuracy of the howitzer we use in Juneau, but it brings down the wet snow."

Since Wednesday there have been four avalanches on the American side of the road, along a stretch nine to 12 miles north of Skagway.

The Klondike Highway usually is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, but the road was closed several times Wednesday and Thursday. It reopened about 9:30 this morning.

"There are people who have appointments in Whitehorse today and are trying to get through," said Linda Robinson, a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service supervisory inspector at the Skagway border station about seven miles north of town.

The Canadians may not keep the road open past daylight hours.

Bob Magnuson, Yukon director of transportation and maintenance, said the avalanche danger is "high to extreme" along a 30-mile corridor north of the border.

While no avalanches have blocked the Canadian side, a contractor has been tossing dynamite from a helicopter to trigger slides.

"He's been dropping it where he feels are critical points in the avalanche zone," Magnuson said from his Whitehorse office.

The Haines Road remains open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Visibility and drifting snow are greater concerns than avalanches along the 150 miles of highway from Haines to Haines Junction in the Yukon.

"What we're concerned about there is the combination of snow and high winds," Magnuson said.

Tom True, an INS inspector at the Dalton Cache border station 40 miles north of Haines, reported light snow but no traffic today as of 9 a.m.

"We've had some people coming south this week who thought it should be closed, but it's open," True said.

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.

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