(Brian Zanussi photo)

B.C. couple caught in Kootenay Pass avalanche

Just after the ministry carried out avalanche control and opened the highway a Rossland couple was almost swept away by snow

A Rossland couple was caught in an avalanche on the Kootenay Pass Sunday afternoon — all within a half hour of the highway was reopened.

Brian Zanussi, his wife, and the family dog were on their way back from a weekend in Kimberley when they were stuck in a huge back up of traffic on the Creston-side while the ministry carried out avalanche control.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m. the highway opened up and away they went in the couple’s Dodge pick-up truck.

RELATED: Work is play for Avalanche Rescue Dogs

It wasn’t long after they crested the top of the pass and headed down toward Salmo that things took a scary turn.

Brian recalls seeing bits of snow starting to tumble down the hill, and his wife gave a warning cry.

Before he knew it, the rear of the vehicle ahead was impacted by a rush of snow and propelled forward. Brian recalls the snow carried his truck dangerously close to the steep embankment on the left-hand side.

“The snow was fast, you couldn’t outrun it,” he said. “But it was calm, like a river of snow.”

Other than being shaken up, no one was hurt.

The vehicles involved were damaged, and Brian says his truck is in the shop for a wheel realignment (snow from the avalanche was packed tightly into the wheel wells).

Because the ministry had just finished avalanche control, a crew was not far down the hill from where the incident occurred.

The highway was again closed so workers could clear the avalanche which Brian estimates was about six feet high and 30-or-so-feet wide.

DriveBC issued an advisory on Sunday afternoon that the Kootenay Pass would remain closed until 11 p.m. for avalanche deposit removal. Notably, the highway stayed closed until approximately 2 a.m. Avalanche control was undertaken Monday morning and afternoon as well.

On Monday, the Ministry of Transportation issued a warning that spring snowstorms were expected to hit Southern Interior highways.

RELATED: The science of snow

“Environment Canada has issued warnings and special weather statements for the Southern Interior, as heavy snowfall is expected on many British Columbia highways within the next 24 hours,” the advisory read.

Although spring has officially arrived, weather can change quickly on high mountain passes, and drivers can still encounter challenging conditions.

Snow is expected to start falling in the Southern Interior this afternoon, with as much as 30 centimetres expected on Highway 3 from Paulson Summit to Kootenay Pass by tomorrow morning.

Ten to 15 centimetres of snow was forecast for the Coquihalla between Hope and Merritt, Highway 3 from Hope to Princeton, and sections of Highway 97 and 97C.

In other areas, 10 to 20 centimetres was expected for the Trans-Canada Highway from Eagle Pass to Rogers Pass. The South Peace River region could see 15 to 25 centimetres.

The ministry’s road and bridge maintenance contractors are prepared for this late-season storm, and will fully deploy resources as needed to ensure public safety.

The ministry recently announced several enhancements to winter maintenance and preparation that will go into effect next winter, including extending winter tire and chain regulations on select highways to April 30.

Other changes include improved oversight of highway maintenance contractors, stricter commercial vehicle chain-up restrictions and fines, and investing $1.8 million over the next three years in additional weather stations and overhead message signs to provide better real-time weather and road condition information.

For travel information, available 24/7, go to www.DriveBC.ca.

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