Plow patrol

By District Staff on Monday, Oct 30, 2023

It’s the calm before the (winter) storm.

On this sunny – and snowless – fall afternoon, a driver behind the wheel of a white 3-ton pickup truck with a salt spreader and seven-foot snowplow is simulating clearing the parking lot at Inter River Park.

Mike Blackmon, Public Works streets foreman 2, watches as the driver practises maneuvering the truck, using sand to simulate spreading salt and brine.

Approximately 60 members from District Streets, Parks and Utilities departments and a handful of North Vancouver Recreation and Culture staff will receive training in safely operating plows and salt trucks so they’re ready to go when it gets snowy or icy.

Last year DNV crews plowed 42,170 kilometres of road during a winter season that included 36 ice days and 21 days of fresh snowfall resulting in 195 centimetres of snow.

“We’ve got new trucks and training guidelines,” says Blackmon, who notes that to earn certification, new drivers must take a classroom course and then hit the road for a one-on-one practical driving session.

Street smarts

A fundamental lesson taught to the drivers is to start clearing from the centre of the road and work their way out. “If we have the centre lane open, everyone knows which side of the lane they are supposed to be on, which prevents accidents,” Blackmon says.

Blackmon knows what he’s talking about. He’s driven a snowplow in the District for 17 years, working through blizzards, ice storms, Christmases and Super Bowl Sundays to make sure staff, residents, transit busses and emergency responders were getting to where they needed to go.

With nearly two decades of experience, he can tell you where snow and ice usually hit first in the varied microclimates that dot the District and which hills and streets will be an extra challenge, even for the veteran drivers.

“With the new staff, that’s where our experience helps, passing that knowledge along,” he says.

When talking about extreme weather, Blackmon easily rattles off the worst winters he’s encountered over the past few decades: 2000, 2008 and 2016. Last year was also right up there, he says.

“It was the worst weather I’ve seen in the past seven years. We had several big snow events and so many low-temperature days.” 

A white snowplow removes snow on a tree-lined street.

Snow Command

When snow falls or icy conditions are forecast, our crews work hard to make sure residents can safely get to where they need to go, whether they're driving, walking, riding, or taking transit.

While the Streets Department crews are busy clearing roads, Parks staff focus on hand-salting and using various snow-clearing equipment to clear and salt school zones and drop-off areas, bike lanes and multi-use pathways, main sidewalks, and frontages and pathways throughout DNV parks.

The District’s multi-department Snow Command team will get some reinforcements this winter as the crew, which often works 12-hour shifts 24/7 during harsh winter weather, is growing its pool of trained staff from 40 to around 60 people. 

Along with boots and shovels on the ground, the DNV also has a large fleet ready to tackle snow and ice before, during and after a storm or freeze and uses state-of-the-art technology to monitor weather and road conditions and stay ahead of the snow and ice, so they can get a jump on bad weather.

Learn more about how we prepare for winter weather

A member of the Snow Command teams sits behind the wheel of snowplow.

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