Maintaining Safety – Winter on the Coquihalla

Coquihalla Summit

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 the winter.

The highway climbs about 1,200 metres before reaching the summit, and it’s subjected to many different micro-climates along the way. What starts out as a dry, powdery snow can quickly turn wet and slushy as you head south approaching 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):

Maintenance Contractor:

Location:

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 ourwebcams 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.

 

122 comments on “Maintaining Safety – Winter on the Coquihalla”

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  1. I am driving from Vancouver to Alberta this March, will I need winter tires on my car? What are the typical road conditions that I might expect?

    Reply
  2. How often are road maintenance crews required to clear snow, sand/salt the highway? Particularly at the summit? Driving through before Christmas, and looking at the highway from the drive.bc cameras over the last few weeks, there seem to be very little snow being cleared during the snow storms, also there are huge patches of road up there that have not only had very little snow clearing, but also no salt or sanding being done.

    Reply
    • Hi Yvonne. The Coquihalla experienced record snowfall in the days leading to Christmas, receiving a total of 122 cm of snow between Dec 19 and Dec 21. This was an extreme storm for any contractor to manage, and Yellowhead Road and Bridge had a significant amount of equipment and resources working to manage the storm.

      Here’s a video that describes protocol on the Coquihalla during winter storms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfPY2Ubmi2I&feature=emb_title

      The new maintenance contract requires contractors to adhere to improved measures that require a more proactive approach to winter maintenance. These changes include:

      – Returning Class A highways (i.e. Coquihalla) to bare pavement within 24 hours of a winter weather event ending (previously 48 hours) at temperatures of warmer than minus nine degrees, when de-icing chemical use is effective.
      – Increasing patrol frequency to 90 minutes on a Class A highways (i.e. Coquihalla) during a snow storm (previously four hours).
      – When a weather event is forecasted to occur, increasing the patrol frequency to four hours in anticipation of the weather event coming (previously 24 hours).
      – Requiring the use of remote weather information systems to forecast when a weather event will occur and to spread anti-icing chemicals prior to the weather event.

      Hope this information helps. If you ever see a problem on the Coquihalla, I encourage you to report it to Yellowhead Road and Bridge Nicola: 1 888 899-9854

      Reply
  3. I am driving from Vancouver to Kamloops this weekend (October 19-21). Weather forecast is mid to high teens (celcius) and I do not have snow tires. Will I be fined even though the snow tires will most likely not be required for the drive?

    Reply
    • Hi Loretta,

      A winter tire must be labelled with either of the following:

      The letters “M” and “S”, the minimum legal requirement (mud + snow/all season tires)
      The 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol (ome manufacturers label with both the mountain snowflake and the M+S symbol)

      Mountain snowflake tires offer better traction on snow and ice. We recommend drivers install mountain/snowflake tires for cold weather driving and, for extreme conditions, carry chains. A legal winter tire (on a standard passenger vehicle or a four-wheel/all-wheel vehicle) MUST also have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth. If you have either of these tires on your vehicle, you should be fine travelling the route – although we encourage you to check DriveBC before you go, in case the weather turns quickly (which can happen quickly in high mountain passes). Summer tires are not recommended for driving between October 1 and March 31 and chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires on signed B.C. highways. Here is a link to more info on winter driving requirements in BC: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving

      Summer tires are not recommended for driving between October 1 and March 31 and chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires on signed B.C. highways.

      Reply
  4. Hi,

    I am looking to travel this highway in early May and am wondering will I need winter tires or not and how will the roads be?

    Reply
    • Hi Tyler,

      We can’t say with any certainty what the roads will be like in May, however you should expect snow at higher elevations across BC. Winter rated tires or tires labelled M+S qualify as winter tires (with a minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm). Check http://www.drivebc.ca before you go, give yourself plenty of time, drive carefully and be prepared with warm clothes, food and water and gas, should you need to stop for any reason. Thanks for connecting with us here. Safe and happy trails!

      Reply
  5. Hi there!

    I am driving up to Vernon and Kelowna tomorroow
    Which highway is the safest right now? Coquihalla has snow on it. It’s my first time driving to that area and I heard it’s elevated.

    Reply
    • Hi there,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. We hope your trip went well. Yes, there will be snow in the mountains and at high elevations across BC until well into May in some places. Best to check http://www.DriveBC.ca to get a sense of road conditions before you go, so that you can plan a route that works best for you. Typically Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon sees less snow, however it is longer than the Coquihalla. Highway 3 is another alternate route to the interior, but it can also get snow at high elevations. Always be prepared for poor weather, give yourself plenty of time and drive carefully. Safe travels!

      Reply
  6. Hi there,

    I am planning to go to Kamloops from Langley on March 2nd. Is there a way to avoid the Coquihalla (Highway 5). Will I require winter tires?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hello, thanks for connecting with us here.

      Yes, you will need winter tires to travel the Coquihalla (winter tire legislation is in effect from October 1 – March 31). You could take Highway 1 (Fraser Canyon) to Kamloops, which is a lower elevation, but winter tires are also required for this route.

      What is a Legal Winter Tire in B.C.?

      A legal winter tire (on a standard passenger vehicle or a four-wheel/all-wheel vehicle) MUST have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth.

      A winter tire must be labelled with either of the following:

      The letters “M” and “S”, the minimum legal requirement (mud + snow/all season tires)
      The 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol (some manufacturers label with both the mountain snowflake and the M+S symbol)

      Mountain snowflake tires offer better traction on snow and ice. We recommend drivers install mountain/snowflake tires for cold weather driving and, for extreme conditions, carry chains.

      Summer tires are not recommended for driving between October 1 and March 31 and chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires on signed B.C. highways.

      Here’s a link to more information on driving in winter through BC: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving

      Reply
  7. I am planning to drive to kelowna from regina in last week of April 2017. My only concern is how the roads gone be after calgary. Do I need to wait few more weeks to drive or not? any help will be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  8. As I mentioned above, I am planning to drive from Vancouver to Vernon in mid-March. I do have “M&S” logo on my tires. Is there any route (Vancouver to Vernon) that I cannot take because it requires snow tires? Thank you.

    Reply
  9. What month will the Coquihalla usually be clear of snow? Is April usually good? I am trying to plan a trip from Vancouver to Sparkling Hill in Vernon, but am worried about the road conditions. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Eva. Winter tire regulations are in effect until March 31, but the Coquihalla can still experience snow in April. We really suggest checking DriveBC.ca for the latest road conditions/weather before heading out.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for the quick reply. If the weather is nice (no snow) and I choose to, is it legal for me to drive on the Coquihalla Highway to Vernon in mid-March without snow or M+S tires? Would I get pulled over for not having snow or M+S tires? If so, is there any other routes that do not require snow/M+S tires? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  11. I am planning to drive from Vancouver to Vernon in mid-March. I have all seasons tires. Is it mandatory to have snow tires if I drive on the Coquihalla Highway? If so, is there another route I can take to avoid the Coquihalla Highway? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi J. Check your sidewall for the M+S logo (Mud and Snow). These tires, with at least 3.5mm tread depth, are acceptable on the Coquihalla Highway (which is the most direct route to Vernon from Vancouver). Highway 1 and Highway 3 are options, but they also require M+S tires.

      Reply