“What on earth is this?” was the question someone asked me as we drove under this thing. What do you think it is?
The answer is actually very simple, and the name gives it away. In French it’s called a paravalanche. During winter and early spring, this construction protects the road and those using it from avalanches. These huge tumbles of snow might look pretty, but snow is heavy, so this tunnel prevents both the road from being blocked by snow as well as death by avalanche.
These tunnels are all over the roads in the French Alps, particularly on steep areas such as this where the land cannot support much snow.
The name, however, is interesting. The jury (of me) is still out on whether it’s a joining together of ‘para’ and ‘avalanche’, or one of many uses of ‘par‘ in French, which most commonly means ‘by’. Meanwhile, ‘para‘ can mean ‘semi’. For example, a parapharmacie is a pharmacy that stocks products that do not require a prescription. It seems that neither ‘para’ nor ‘par’ means the right thing. However, both have less-common usages. I’m sticking with, ‘para‘ which can also mean ‘protection against’ in English (which the Oxford Dictionary tells me comes from French, with roots an the Italian verb which has roots in Latin). What do you think?