BRITISH COLUMBIA

Canadian Military Wages Never-Ending Battle Against B.C. Avalanches

03/09/2015 02:08 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
ROGERS PASS, B.C. - It's a never-ending war that the Canadian Forces has no hope of winning. They have to settle for victories in small battles along the way.

Despite lengthy stints in wars overseas, Canada's longest military mission continues in Rogers Pass, where it has taken part in Op PALACI doing avalanche control for more than 50 years.

Every year since 1961, from November to April, the artillery task force is deployed in the pass with 105-mm howitzers modified for precision firing from roadside gun platforms.

The shells are fired into rock formations to reduce natural avalanches.

The objective is to prevent blockage of the Trans-Canada Highway and Canadian Pacific rail corridors between Vancouver and the rest of Canada.

Sgt. David Chelkowski, the troop sergeant-major for the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1RCHA), served two tours in Afghanistan.

This year marks his second deployment doing avalanche control.

"This is the only part of Canada where the soldiers deploy to support avalanche control," says Chelkowski. "At the end of the day it is a mission and we're here to do a job that's asked of us."

He says he and the new recruits here for the first time realize they are taking part in a bit of history.

"Members of our regiment and other regiments in Canada have been doing this since the 1960s and for them it is important to write another chapter."

Between 700 and 1,500 rounds are fired each year at predetermined targets in the peaks most at risk. Within a couple of minutes the guns are locked into place on reinforced firing platforms, aimed and ready to fire.

Story continues after slideshow:

Canadian Forces Fight Avalanches In B.C.

Chelkowski says the results can be awe-inspiring.

"It's Mother Nature at its best. You can just watch the trees tumble in front of it. It's out of control and you can't do anything but stand in awe and watch the view."

It is Parks Canada who is calling the shots — literally.

Jeff Goodrich, the senior avalanche officer, says his people do the science and the forecasting and the Canadian Forces provide the firepower.

In a 40-kilometre stretch within Glacier National Park, he says there are 134 avalanche paths that could hit the road.

"It's amazing how much it can snow here," Goodrich says.

"We get periods where we don't get blue sky for weeks on end and we can get into periods of stormy weather where we need to do avalanche control and the next day get back at it again."

Lt. Steen Hinman-Miller, the troop commander, is in the Rogers Pass for the first time this year. It's not something that is covered in basic training.

"Shooting down avalanches? No, it's not included in the job description," he says with a laugh.

"We train for general warfare for the most part, but anything we can do to help another government agency for the people of Canada is what we do."

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter