Steamboat’s snowplows start one of the earliest snow removals on record: Here’s how they do it |

Steamboat’s snowplows start one of the earliest snow removals on record: Here’s how they do it

A plow truck was busy clearing snow off the streets in downtown Steamboat Springs in 2017.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The snowman, snow shovel and snowplow season has kicked off early in Routt County. All the snow means Steamboat Springs city snowplows have already started hitting the streets.

City snowplows prioritize core emergency and commercial corridors first. Lincoln Avenue, which is also a federal highway, is plowed by the Colorado Department of Transportation. After the brunt of a storm, the city then removes snow from the parallel parking spaces on either side of Lincoln Avenue downtown.

“We focus on emergency routes, school routes, bus and commercial and all collector roads,” Streets Superintendent David VanWinkle said. “Once those are taken care of, we move out into the residential areas.”

VanWinkle said the city typically hires seasonal equipment operators to help with snow removal in mid-October, but they don’t typically hit the streets until November. This year, those operators were called in early to remove the 21 inches of snow Steamboat received last month.

A staff of 17 people keep Steamboat’s 86 miles of streets and alleys clear of snow. Twenty-four hours per day, every day, someone is monitoring and dispatching equipment operators where they’re needed. VanWinkle said the city’s snow removal team in the streets department is near full staffing this year, though there’s still one position open.

Between Sunday and Thursday last week, plows were operating 24 hours per day, VanWinkle said. The city has also started removing snow from Lincoln Avenue and city parking lots, hauled off to start this year’s mountain of snow at the Public Works Shop on 13th Street.

“This is one of the earliest removals that we have on record,” VanWinkle said.

The city’s armada of snow removal equipment includes:

  • Motor graders, which are the big guns in the world of city snow removal, used to cut through three inches or more of snow
  • Sand trucks, which have a plow attached to the front and a spreader behind the cab. The spreader is typically filled with scoria rock that breaks down to improve traction. In temperatures above 15 degrees, salt can also be used to help melt the ice at critical spots such as intersections and curves.
  • Blowers, which essentially vacuum up snow into dump trucks that carry it to the soon-to-be massive pile of snow at the Publics Work Shop.

As plows start coming through more frequently, VanWinkle urges residents to remove landscaping and construction equipment from the roadway to protect both people’s equipment and city equipment from damage.

“Winter is coming. Actually, winter is here, so we need to start getting all of our landscape, all of our construction materials, dumpsters and things like that, out of the city right-of-way,” he said.

Drivers should also give plows space.

The equipment operator in the cab is working to do several tasks at once: moving the plow, avoiding whacking curbs and street signs and trash cans, releasing the appropriate amount of scoria and maneuvering a machine twice the size of a typical passenger vehicle through streets filled with already impatient commuters.

“It’s always good to give the plow a little extra room,” VanWinkle said. “That’s a big piece of equipment that’s not able to stop nearly as quickly as a vehicle, usually.

“Don’t pass a snowplow unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

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

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