People build snowmen, spend night in vehicles after more major delays on Highway 93

Winter conditions persist as officials caution against traveling in affected areas

Wintry warnings and advisories are still in effect across Alberta Monday night, more than a day after a snowstorm pelted Highway 93 between Banff and Radium, B.C., snarled traffic and forced some people to spend the night in their vehicles. 

A portion of Highway 93 going south was closed at Highway 1 near Castle Junction “due to a road obstruction” on Sunday evening, but Drive B.C. reported late Monday morning that it had since reopened.

511 Alberta had reported that a jackknifed semi-trailer had closed down one lane of Highway 93 south. 

On Sunday evening, RCMP were called to a multi-vehicle crash west of the Banff townsite on Highway 93.

For Calgarian Michelle Langfeldt, a typical three-hour trip from her family’s cabin in Invermere, B.C., to home was stretched into a 14-hour trek.

Langfeldt, her boyfriend and dog left Invermere at 11:30 a.m. and arrived home at 1:30 a.m., after spending much of the trip having no idea what was causing delays due to a lack of cell service. 

“It was just one calamity after the other. We saw only three snow plows in the opposite direction over the span of 14 hours.” 

She says it was like a game of telephone trying to get information from other cars and that she heard of some people with babies in the cars but no food, so families were sharing snacks. Children built snowmen to pass the time.

One motorist spotted several other stuck travellers who were building snowmen during the traffic jam. (Submitted by Natalie Ruhl)

Others were running out of gas — and electric vehicles out of charge — and had to pull over and wait until traffic began flowing. She saw one semi-truck stop in traffic to put snow chains on. 

“I’ve driven that road a big chunk of my life … and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

“Motorists were just getting very, very angry.”

CBC News spoke with several people who had their travel significantly delayed because of the conditions. Many people on Twitter also said they were unable to connect with family members stuck on the highway due to poor cellphone service.

Banff RCMP confirmed that the affected area has no cell service.

In a statement to CBC News, Parks Canada said it is open to working with wireless carriers who want to provide cell coverage in Kootenay National Park.

A proposal was received in 2013, but the company ultimately decided not to not to pursue the installation of wireless infrastructure along Highway 93 South, Parks Canada said.

There have been recent outages affecting phone customers in Alberta and B.C. as well.

“Mobility customers in British Columbia may be experiencing a service outage due to multiple fibre cuts as a result of adverse weather conditions,” said Caroline Audet, a senior manager with Bell, in an email. “We are working with our partners to restore services as quickly and safely as possible.”

RCMP were on scene and had received no injury reports.

Columbia Valley RCMP told CBC News they were in the area all day and into the evening Sunday rerouting Highway 1 traffic. Officers in the area were still working on clearing vehicles, they said.

It’s not the first time this month motorists have been stuck in their vehicles on that stretch of highway. Police are urging caution as winter weather is expected to get worse in the weeks ahead, and with construction detours in place until Dec. 1. Highway 93 is the main detour for the Trans-Canada Highway, which is closed east of Golden for upgrades.

Meanwhile, southern B.C. is also being affected by mudslides and flooding further west that has also trapped travellers in their vehicles.

RCMP were warning of extreme road conditions across Banff National Park, and were asking people to stay off the roads.