In a resort community where seasoned residents have to contend with months of heavy flurries and vacationing neophyte winter drivers, snow clearing is a major priority.
Preliminary results of a community life survey administered by the Resort Municipality of Whistler rank plowing of local roads a top prerogative for both permanent residents and second homeowners alike. Satisfaction with the current level of service provided is hovering around 94 per cent.
The highway between Duffey Lake Road and Function Junction is maintained by British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation, which contracts snow-clearing service out to Mainroad Contracting. The Delta-based company is in the seventh year of a 10-year contract and recently brought an eighth plow into rotation, allowing for faster clearing when the roads are covered. According to Mainroad's vice-president of operations the biggest challenge - and danger - facing plow operators is impatient drivers.
"It can be dangerous, depending on the conditions and the drivers on the road," said Noel Mansky. "You've really got to be very alert of course, during performance feed duties because you are operating a large vehicle in very adverse weather conditions with others who are out on the road."
Snow plow drivers must have their Class 3 with Air certification, as well as completing Mainroad's winter orientation program, which runs them through a number of different drills and stations relating to the truck's operations.
Within the Resort Municipality of Whistler (but not including the highway), responsibility falls to the municipal roads department, which is in charge of approximately 100 kilometres of road surface. Special emphasis is given to transit and school bus routes, main access points to the highway, the village, and ski lifts. RMOW's environmental services manager Michael Day says the routes are constantly being adjusted for improvement. The roads department keeps 18 full time staff employed through the winter months and when precipitation dominates they work around the clock to keep Whistler's roads accessible.
"When it's not snowing we run 17 hours out of the 24-hour day. But if it's snowing they will work 24 hours a day until the snow is clear," he said. "What we have done is tweak the routes and timing for our snow plowing, just trying different things out to make it more efficient and better for the public."
Illegally parked cars are not just the bane of every parking attendant's existence; in Whistler they can mean the disruption of a snow-clearing route, which means more time and more dollars.
"Illegal parking is always a bit of a problem but we have a good bylaw team and we work together to try to get around it and get it done," said Tim Brooksbank, RMOW's roads supervisor. "Of course we have to go back after the vehicle is moved and clear the road properly, but we get it done."
The RMOW owns 11 pieces of snow clearing equipment of various sizes and purpose. Mainroad Contracting has eight. Plows cost around $300,000 for a fully outfitted rig.