Hello everyone –
As everyone who loves to play on the snow during a winter season in the southeast, you have to get to your favorite ski resort to have a good time.
Maybe not as much this season, due to the lack of natural snow, but if it wasn’t for your friendly highway department snowplow driver, that trip might not as safe as it is while they are out clearing the roads.
In this column space, we have touted the attributes of the region’s snowmakers, ski and snowboard instructors, and local ski shop operators. This time around I thought a shout out needed to go to those drivers of snowplows, that don’t even appear on anyone’s radar until it’s snowing pretty good and you need to get your favorite ski resort to make some turns in fresh powder.
There are thousands of skiers, snowboarders and snowtubers that head into West Virginia every winter from the south, the majority traveling on Interstates 77/64. Here in West Virginia, we know the stretch from the Virginia/West Virginia state line to Charleston as West Virginia Turnpike.
You may think that the highway folks just poke their head out the door, see it snowing and head out onto the highway with their blade down. Curtis Redden, Roadway Manager of the turnpike said planning is the key to getting out clearing the roads, “We will look at every weather forecast we can find, we have a good relationship with the National Weather Service in Charleston, so we take a detailed weather forecast and formulate our plowing plans.”
One thing to remember, we are not talking about an eight to five job, because we all know that Mother Nature’s snowfall could happen at any time, and getting a jump start on any active weather situation is the key according to Redden. “We will start getting ready, depending on what they are calling for, on the turnpike. We keep our maintenance up on our trucks, making sure nothing mechanically is wrong with them for when the time comes, we are ready to respond. We are basically ready to throw every tool we have at a snowstorm.”
That is music to the ears of any skier or snowboarder headed to their favorite ski resort to safely reach the area and head to the slopes.
What I also heard from Redden is that this is not a wait to the last minute type of operation, before the plows even touch the roadways, the trucks are out prepping the roads, says Redden, “We know if a storm is coming in and it’s not going to rain before it starts snowing, we will get out and pretreat the roads well ahead of the storm. That helps the snow get plowed off easier rather than sticking to the road, If it is an icy mix coming in, we will pretreat the roads with salt, we just try to get a jump start on the storms.”
Now how many times have you been in a hurry, and you see a snowplow working the roads ahead of you and you make the decision to pass the truck, which Redden says is not a very good decision. “During a snowstorm, even though the speed may be 70 mph, our guys are not going over 25-30 mph if they are plowing snow. Two of the most dangerous things we have are drivers coming up on the plow truck too fast and people trying to pass you and not giving the truck enough room. People just don’t realize how big of a piece of equipment they are coming up on and usually the truck wins.”
What most drivers don’t take into consideration when traveling in active weather is that the posted speed limits are determined in perfect driving conditions. Not when it is snowing and Redden says it’s unfortunately human nature to not understand the possible dangerous outcome. “When they are on the interstate they are trying to get from point A to point B as fast as they can get there. Meanwhile, they are relying on us to make sure the road is as safe as possible and it doesn’t matter, because some folks are still in just too much of a hurry. They are the ones that just need to slow down.”
Besides making sure the roads are safe to travel on during a snowstorm, Redden says many times the plow drivers will pull off the roadway and help that driver, “The parkway is a toll road, so we feel we have to provide a service that is a little bit above and beyond most roads. When we see someone stopped, it’s a safety issue and we are going to stop and figure out what is wrong and help in anyway we can at that moment. If it is bad and you have a vehicle on the side of the road, we want to clear it out of the way before something bad happens. Anything we can do to help them get out of danger, we will do anytime we can. All of the drivers are advised that safety is the most important thing.”
One thing I got from Redden during our conversation was how proud he was of his crew that takes care of their stretch of the interstate that skiers and snowboarders use every season. He signed off our chat with the following, “On the turnpike, we have a motto, that we want our road wet when all the other roads are still snow covered and we want our roads dry when all the other roads have gotten wet.”
So, the next time you pull into that gas station during a snowstorm and there is a plow driver catching a break, how about buying him a cup of coffee, and saying thanks, because they are the reason you are getting to your favorite resort safely. Also, by all means, give them plenty of room to do their job.
That’s it for this week, so thanks for joining me for my weekly ramblings. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Be safe and “Let Gravity Be Your Friend.”