Set in the rain shadow of the Coastal Mountains, the Coquihalla is an awe-inspiring drive any time of year, but it can also be a demanding one, especially in winter.
The highway climbs about 1,200 metres before reaching the summit, and it’s subjected to many different microclimates along the way. What starts out as dry, powdery snow can quickly turn wet and slushy as you head south towards the coast.
And it’s not just the different types of snow that are a problem, either – it’s how much that falls. Here’s a little fun fact: the Coquihalla has some of the highest annual snowpacks in the province. Despite its altitude, the weather is generally warmer than other mountain passes, which can lead to more melting/freezing cycles and more problems with ice.
Keeping up with the winter weather along this route is a challenge, and our maintenance contractors use a variety of equipment and techniques to keep the road open for traffic. In addition to the regular sanding/salting, our contractors will use loaders and excavators to push and pile the snow away from the road. Also, the barriers we installed to increase safety for motorists can make plowing more difficult, so snow blowers are used here more often than anywhere else in the province.
We have three maintenance contractors that work 24 hours a day, seven days a week trying to keep the highway open. In case you’ve ever wondered, here’s who they are and the areas they cover (and here’s a full list of our maintenance contractors):
|Emil Anderson Maintenance||Between Hope and Portia Bridge|
|Yellowhead Road & Bridge (Nicola) Ltd.||Between Portia Bridge and Merritt and between Merritt and Walloper, near Lac La Jeune|
|Argo Road Maintenance (Thompson)||Between Walloper and Kamloops|
We’re always looking to make our roads as safe as possible, so we set high standards for our maintenance contractors to meet, and we work closely with them to make sure they deliver. Even with these measures in place, weather can be unpredictable. Sudden storms can see snow and ice build up quickly on the road, even after a plow has just passed, so it’s important to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip and drive safely. That said, sometimes it just isn’t possible to keep the highway in drivable condition. Our first priority is to keep people safe, so if the road is too dangerous, we`ll close it down until we can get things under control. Of course if the route closes, there are others you can take to get to your destination, like Highway 1.
Regardless of what’s going on, if there’s something you need to know about this route, we’re working to keep you informed. Whether through safe winter driving tips, advisory signs or using Twitter, DriveBC or our webcams we’re getting the word out there to alert drivers about current conditions.
If you plan on driving the Coquihalla, or anywhere else, this winter, please make sure to plan ahead and check the current conditions. You’ll be helping yourself and doing other drivers a favour, too.