Monday, July 26, 2010

Avalanche 'Road'

For those of us who do not live in avalanche danger zones, it's easy to underestimate their tremendous, deadly power.  Recently, I took a fabulous vacation to Montana.  During my stay, I learned all about the scary process of trying to ski the bowls at the top of the state's mighty mountains.  I heard about testing the snow before skiing down and the thought of it made me shiver and question whether I'd want to go back in the winter and ski one (and I love to ski!).  The folks on the Dalton Highway don't have much of a choice. If they want to stay employed, they have to travel through Atigun Pass where the threat of avalanches always looms.  Luckily, there are good people like Reid Bahnson out there to prevent as many tragic avalanches as possible.  This week, however, he was a little too close to the action, and one of the drivers was a little too close to becoming another white cross on the side of the road.

Ever since the huge avalanche of 1993, the Alaska DOT has worked to prevent as many tragedies as possible.  Employees such as Reid go out there and test the conditions to make sure no truckers are caught in Atigun when the snow begins to tumble down at breakneck speeds.  This week, Reid knew the conditions were right for some big avalanches.  He was planning on taking his crew up there the next morning to shoot the canons.  He warned as many drivers as possible -- some decided to stop in Coldfoot overnight and some decided to take their chances and push on.  Rookie Ray was in the latter category which was especially surprising given his son's ominous warning.  He had dreamt about his dad having an accident and cautioned him to be careful of bridges and left turns -- both of which are found in Atigun.  He crossed the Pass in the pitch black and gave a sigh of relief after he made it safely past each slide shoot marker.  But then he thought he heard a weird noise and we were left wondering while the show took a commercial break if he had become a victim of an avalanche.  Thankfully, he made it through safe and sound and continued on to Prudhoe safely as well.

That same night, Reid went out to check the Pass around 3 a.m. and came upon a line of stopped trucks.  He knew something was amiss.  When he got to the front of the truck line, he saw deep snow covering the road -- the remnants of an avalanche.  Luckily, no one had been traveling through that slide shoot when the snow came tumbling down.  Although, Ray had traveled through there missing the avalanche by mere hours.  Reid called in the heavy equipment to get the road cleared as quickly as possible.  The next morning, he drove further into the Pass and got out of his truck to check the conditions.  But before he could climb up and perform his tests, a loud roar came from higher up the mountain.  Reid yelled for the camera crew to back up as he ran for his life away from the falling snow.  Thankfully, everyone was fine.  Another bullet dodged!  After watching this one, I may have to put "avalanche episodes" on the top of the intensity list above "wicked weather."  That was IN-SANE!

Back in Fairbanks, Lisa was sidelined with a broken truck.  She was forced to wait for repairs causing her to miss another couple of days of work (after missing two for the citations and health exam).  On the plus side, she missed the avalanches and learned more about her truck.  On the not-so-plus side, she fell behind in the "Dash for the Cash."  Next week, it looks like she more than makes up for it with the largest load of the season!  Can't wait!

Ice Road Truckers airs Sunday nights on History. To catch up on this season, click on over to where you'll also get more information, trucker bios, and an IRT app for your iPhone.   

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