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Andermatt Swiss Alps

The long, hard battle for springtime

Dori Tarelli-Blunschi

Every year an experienced team works flat out to open up the Gotthard. Pass after the winter closure, to the delight of grateful drivers.

World-famous Alpine pass, a centuries-old transport route, a legend – many romantic notions are associated with the Gotthard Pass. Louis Baumann, Werner Gnos and Ambros Müller have professional reasons for taking a far more prosaic view of the crossing between Uri and Ticino. They make sure that the road from Göschenen at 1,111 m (above sea level) over the Gotthard Pass at 2,106 m to Airolo at 1,075 m can be safely negotiated. The entire route through high alpine terrain is open to modern-day traffic. It’s no wonder that so many motorists break out in a sweat here, even with good weather and road conditions. After a spectacular drive up the north side, the road then demands the motorist’s full attention as it winds down the southern slope of the pass with countless bends, 13 bridges, a tunnel and a long avalanche gallery.

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The degree to which the pass road must succumb to nature does not become completely apparent until the winter, when the stretch between Hospental and Airolo needs to be closed every year. The road over the Gotthard Pass would be impossible to keep clear and far too dangerous, covered by snow up to ten metres deep, with avalanches on all sides. Of course, the convenient north-south route through the Gotthard Road Tunnel has been available to motorized traffic since 1980. And yet, in early June, drivers and motorcyclists can scarcely wait to feel the bends of the world-famous Gotthard Pass beneath their wheels.

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So Louis Baumann, Werner Gnos, Ambros Müller and their weatherproof teams spring into action again. Every spring they work flat out for around seven weeks to return the Gotthard Pass road to a safely passable state. After the road experts have marked out the exact route of the snow-covered road using GPS and spray paint, the snow ploughs drive back and forth many times until around 170,000 tonnes of snow have been removed layer by layer and the asphalt is again visible. Loose rock and stones must then be cleared, the road cleaned and the crash barriers and road signs reinstalled. Both sides of the pass contain exposed places that are avalanche-prone and where particular care is required – during the clearing work and with regard to the anxiously waiting drivers in particular. When everything has been made safe and given a final check they can officially welcome the springtime and declare the pass open – even if the carriageway remains flanked by imposing walls of snow on both sides at first.

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Opening The Gotthard Pass: Facts and Figrues

Winter closure:  from Hospental to Airolo (24 km), November to May

Teams working to open the pass: two teams of approximately 8 people

Resources: 7 snow ploughs, 3 multipurpose 4WDs, 1 wheel loader, 1 HGV

Time spent: about 7 weeks

Cost: approximately CHF 400 000 per year

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