When a mega winter storm dropped more than three feet of snow in parts of Pitkin County last week, a crew of snow plow drivers went to work. The County’s fleet of trucks plowed and sanded over 100 miles of roads. As Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports, the drivers work to keep the roads drivable throughout the winter.
While everyone else was skiing the fresh powder late last week, Pitkin County snowplow drivers were hard at work, doubling their average daily mileage and working double shifts. The largest amounts of snow were piled up near Thomasville and Meredith in the upper Frying Pan.
"The good thing about these storms is our plows don’t know the difference between two inches and two feet, they’re meant to move snow. So, it’s just having the wherewithal in your brain to take it easy and take your time," says Scott Mattice.
He's the Road and Bridge foreman for Pitkin County. In the winter, he’s in the truck, working the plow.
"We’re going to go down Smith Hill to Upper and Lower River Road. Looks like we got a half inch in the last half hour (laughs)!"
The County maintains 140 miles of roads in the winter, stretching over a large swath of rural land. Around 4am, plow drivers start on the school bus routes like Castle Creek Road and Maroon Creek Road. Then, they hit the commuter routes like Brush Creek and McClain Flats. During a storm, drivers are pushing back snow, sanding roads and responding to accidents.
"This last storm dumped up to three or three and a half feet, depending on where you were in the county. That’s a lot of snow to remove at one time," says Brian Pettet, Public Works Director for the county.
He says last week’s storm brought some surprises.
"It also propagated a lot of snow sluffing. So, we had small avalanches and bank sluffs that blocked roads that we had to respond to."
The small avalanches happened up Castle Creek and Woody Creek Road. Another problem from the winter storm? Where to dump all the snow.
"As it accumulates, it’s a problem and so we’ve got to load it up, put in trucks and haul it out somewhere. The problem is, there’s just not a whole lot of places to put it," Pettet says.
The City of Aspen hauls its snow to a dumping area just outside of town, which has grown substantially since last week’s storm. The county pushes most of the snow off the sides of rural roads.
Out on the road, plow driver Scott Mattice stops for a broken down vehicle. Mattice hops in his truck and alerts dispatch. Soon, a sheriff’s deputy arrives. Ray Sprovtsoff owns the troubled jeep. He lives just down the road and he’s grateful the county plows this stretch.
"This is the middle of nowhere, basically, I mean, I call it rural-rural. And, they’re out here every morning. On my way to work, they’re on the job."
Plow driver Scott Mattice heads back down the road, as the blade sprays snow. Mattice says he likes his job because everyday is different.
"I do, I really do. Every storm’s different, every truck is different, every road is different. I spend a lot of my day in a truck, and then I might jump into a grater or a pickup. It depends on the storm. I find it challenging and fun."
Last week’s winter storm may have set a record in Aspen. On Friday, between 20 and 24 inches fell. The previous record for one day’s worth of snowfall was 21.8 inches in 1996.