By Captain Nicholas Kaempffer, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School
Rogers Pass, British Columbia — Every winter, avalanches at Rogers Pass have the potential to pose a drastic threat to the safety and security of Canadians. At least it did, until The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RCA), working with Parks Canada, put in place the world’s largest mobile avalanche-control program more than 50 years ago.
Winter has more than met its match, since through Operation PALACI, Gunners dominate this season with the application of high-explosive projectiles that cause safe, controlled avalanches to keep Canadians secure.
Rogers Pass, the most avalanche-prone roadway found in North America, is located within the federal land of Glacier National Park in British Columbia. It is not just any road and railway crossing – it is a critical traffic link used by more than 4,000 motor vehicles and 40 trains per day, facilitating billions of dollars of commerce and the movement of thousands of Canadians from the Pacific Coast to the rest of Canada.
At 1,330 metres above sea level in the Selkirk Mountains and with an annual snowfall accumulation of 12 metres, Rogers Pass has more than 130 avalanche paths that cross the Trans-Canada Highway alone.
As the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) support to Parks Canada, Operation PALACI is a task force comprised of members from both Regular and Reserve Force artillery units that apply considerable firepower to neutralize the snow demons at Rogers Pass.
During Annual Avalanche Control (AVCON) operations, this task force is directed by Joint Task Force Pacific (JTFP), which is supported by The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery School (RCAS). The RCAS, as the Artillery Centre of Excellence, is responsible for the conduct of the Artillery Fire Effect (AFE) Certification Program, which both certifies new Parks Canada Agency (PCA) staff, and performs refresher training for currently certified PCA members.
With 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1 RCHA) taking the lead in supplying both personnel and guns to support Parks Canada for 2017-18 AVCON operations, two Gunners from the RCAS were key components in ensuring the safety of all involved.
Captain John Knox, an Instructor-in-Gunnery and Warrant Officer Eric Comeau, an Assistant Instructor-in-Gunnery, were critical members in a joint team of Parks Canada and CAF members who worked in concert to ensure the success of this year’s operations. Both Capt Knox and WO Comeau leveraged their technical excellence to oversee and instruct the AFE Certification Program. Furthermore, they verified the methodology and data correction for the 271 registered targets that are engaged from 17 positions along the Trans-Canada highway.
Once they returned from British Columbia, WO Comeau worked with Bombardier Alexander DeLorenzis to confirm the firing data and crest-clearance for all of the 271 registered targets that fall within one-kilometre safe areas – a challenging job considering the difficult topography of the Selkirk Mountains.
Reflecting on his experience working with Parks Canada, 1 RCHA and JTFP for this year’s AVCON operations, WO Comeau said, “it was awesome to experience the camaraderie between both the CAF and Parks Canada. Moreover, it is a great feeling to know that you’re applying the knowledge you learn as an Assistant Instructor-in-Gunnery into a real-time, real-world application that keeps fellow Canadians safe!”
With 1 RCHA ready to support Parks Canada with firing data verified by the RCAS, Canadians can rest easy knowing that AVCON operations will ensure safe travels through Rogers Pass. Avalanches may be a great force of nature, but they have more than met their match with Canadian Army Gunners!