Op PALACI maintains avalanche control in Rogers Pass

First day of shooting with the Howitzer for gunners in Rogers Pass
First day of shooting with the Howitzer for gunners in Rogers Pass. After confirmation that the road in the path of the planned avalanche is clear of vehicles, Parks Canada staff give permission to fire at pre-determined targets. Photo: SLt M.X. Déry

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By SLt M.X. Déry, JTFP PA

Every year since 1961, Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) gunners from all over Canada come together during Operation PALACI in Rogers Pass, British Columbia. Their job is to trigger avalanches using C3 105mm Howitzers in this vital choke-point in Canada’s transportation corridor.

These carefully planned artillery strikes are conducted to support the Parks Canada’s avalanche control program, which keeps the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway safe from large, natural avalanches.

Troop Commander Lt Kevin Little is the Artillery Officer that leads the first of two rotations, comprised of 17 members from 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based out of CFB Shilo, Manitoba, and augmented by members from various reserve artillery units.

“I think Op PALACI is exciting for all members because of its unique nature,” said Lt Little, adding that the beauty of the Pass is definitely a highlight.

Seeing the majestic peaks in Rogers Pass, like towers along a giant, snow-covered stone wall, it is no wonder that this “palace” in the sky was the source of the operation’s name: PALACI, the Latin for palace. Although beautiful, these mountains, surrounding the short 39-km stretch of the transportation corridor that connects BC to the rest of Canada, are home to the most active avalanche areas in the country.

The C3 Howitzers have been modified and are positioned on one of the 16 specialized rings that line the narrow highway. Space is at a premium, with gun positions just large enough for the howitzers and their transport, surrounded by deep ravines and tall cedar and hemlock trees.

The tight space is why the C3 Howitzer is the weapon of choice in Rogers Pass.

“It is an excellent weapon, easy to manoeuvre, not particularly heavy, which is an advantage here, due to the small space we have to operate in,” said Lt Little.

With two highly mobile detachments, the guns can be deployed at a moment’s notice, traffic halted, the guns put in place, rounds fired at any of the 300 predetermined avalanche trigger points, the roads cleared of snow and the pass re-opened in mere hours.

Image gallery

  • First day of shooting with the Howitzer for gunners in Rogers Pass
  • Gunners inspect and clear the gun rings

While safety is always paramount, speed and efficiency also rule this operation. With over 4,000 vehicles and up to 40 trains using Rogers Pass daily in the winter, traffic quickly builds up on either side of the pass in the designated holding areas that keep vehicles out of the 134 known slide areas.

Such a complex dance of vehicles, weapons, ammunition and military and civilian personnel would not be possible without great communication and coordination. “It is a very unique operation because of the relationship with Parks Canada, but they have great staff and we have a long enduring relationship supporting them,” said Lt Little.

“It is an opportunity for us to be seen to be serving the public, supporting Parks Canada and enabling citizens of this country to move through Rogers Pass safely.”

For more information, please visit the Operation PALACI web page.

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