Steamboat plow drivers have hauled 3,000 truckloads of snow this winter, and yes, sometimes they leave berms |

Steamboat plow drivers have hauled 3,000 truckloads of snow this winter, and yes, sometimes they leave berms

Crews from the city of Steamboat Springs took advantage of mild weather Feb. 12 to use a snowblower to push back snowbanks. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There are few powder days for a snowplow driver.

The city of Steamboat Springs Streets Department has a staff member on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week managing the city’s snow removal operations.

Streets Department Superintendent David Van Winkle calls it “managing winter.”

At a glance

City of Steamboat Springs street plowing priority:
1. Access for emergency vehicles, transit and commercial routes
2. Residential areas
3. Removing snow from storage piles

The Colorado Department of Transportation plows U.S. Highway 40.

More information about city snow removal:

“It’s a difficult job, and it makes for a long winter for our (equipment) operators,” Van Winkle said. “We would just like everybody to know that it’s not our wish to make winter any longer than it already is, and if we knew how we could plow without leaving windrows or berms, we would certainly do it.

“There is always a price to pay to live in paradise,” he added. “Shoveling your driveway, I guess, is one of them.”

Lincoln Avenue, Steamboat’s arterial road, is also a federal highway, so it’s plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, except in extraneous situations when the severity of the storm and the car crashes it’s causing lead the city to try to improve traction on the road until CDOT can get to it.

CDOT plows the snow to the edge of the road, but the city scoops up that snow and hauls it off the roadway, clearing the street parking spaces on either side of Lincoln Avenue between 13th Street and Old Fish Creek Falls Road.

Without Lincoln Avenue in the mix, streets employees are responsible for plowing about 160 miles of street lanes, 6 miles of alleys, 106 cul-de-sacs and about 50 parking lots, according to Van Winkle.

“For the most part, we do heavy volume (streets), access to the hospitals, schools and bus routes and then move out towards residentials,” Van Winkle said.

“We’ll leave the shop, and the first thing some of the routes do is take care of the core area — from Third to 13th, Oak to Yampa — and then anything that’s heavy volume, Elk River, Pine Grove Road, Walton Creek, access to the hospital and then also to all of our schools, then the city bus route.”

There’s also a bit of a hidden code written into Steamboat’s street signs. Streets with blue street signs are maintained by the city, and streets with brown signs are privately maintained.

Keeping Steamboat’s streets clear requires more than plowing. Once the storm is over, the same crew that plows the roads removes the piled-up snow from city streets and city-owned parking lots, then hauls it to the city’s Public Works shop, where it’s added onto the mountain of snow. On Lincoln Avenue, Oak Street, Yampa Street, Ski Time Square Drive and the north-to-south streets in downtown, snow banks on the side of the street are pushed into the middle of the street, where they are vacuumed up into dump trucks that haul it off.

“We’ve almost hauled 50,000 cubic yards so far this season,” Van Winkle said. “That’s nearly 3,000 truckloads of snow that have been hauled off. … We will probably exceed 60,000 yards this year, which is close to average.”

Without intervention from a snowcat, Van Winkle said this year’s snow pile probably wouldn’t melt before next winter. With a month of hard winter and several months of sporadic snow showers remaining, the mountain of snow already has grown to block the view from his office — not that he’s worried about it.

“If it does melt, you’ll still see remnants of it in late September, going into October,” he said.

In a busy winter, all that snow plowing and pushing and hauling leaves little time to do anything else but manage snow.

“We have someone on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week managing the snow and managing winter,” he said. “When it starts to snow, we’re on it.

“Every year’s different,” Van Winkle said.

Last year, a winter of low snowfall allowed more time to catch up on other streets duties, such as hanging up banners and repairing potholes, Van Winkle said.

He added that it’s getting harder as fences edge closer to property lines and empty spaces used for snow storage disappear.

“We’re losing more and more snow storage every year, so it’s very difficult to catch up in a normal winter, such as this year,” he said.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.