Blow, blow on the range

WYDOT workers take snow plows and blowers up the range about a half a mile a day

 

Joshua Wood

Two snow blowers remove snow from the sides of the highway after the lead snow blower has gone through.

Spring may feel like it's finally arriving in the Valley, and summer is right behind it, but up on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway it seems as if winter has no intention of letting go. While the "official" date declaring the beginning of summer may vary depending on who you ask, the opening of this section of Wyoming Highway 130 is often considered the start of the season.

Down here, the river is rising, birds are chirping and trees are budding. Up on Snowy Range, however, crews from the Wyoming Department of Transportation are working in snow that's over five feet deep in areas. What does it take to clear the scenic byway?

Approximately 400 gallons of diesel a day, three snow blowers, two dozers, a snowplow and a mechanic.

On Thursday, I drove up the Range to meet Billy Zeiger where WYO 130 closes for the season. While it was approximately 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the Valley, it was around 25 degrees on the mountain, the wind was beginning to blow and snow was falling. As we began our ascent up the byway, there was little change to the wind and snow.


Having begun last Monday, the crews working on the byway have been clearing an average of a half-mile of snow each day. Considering how deep that snow is in some areas, that's pretty good progress. The way the snow has fallen on the highway this year, however, is a little different.

As we are heading up to see the progress that has been made, Zeiger tells me that the corner before Silver Lake Campground was easier this year than it has been in the past. In previous snow removal campaigns, that corner has taken the crews the longest amount of time, taking up to three days to clear. This year it took two and it is likely that the logging done before the snow fell has something to do with it.

When we reach the snow removal crew, I'm amazed. I've never actually seen a snowblower working before, but as I'm standing in the center of a freshly cleared section of highway I can see massive amounts of snow being blown out onto the mountainside. Of the three snow blowers, the one that leads the charge has two engines making it the best equipped. While it moves through the center of the snow packed highway, the other two come in behind and clean up the sides.

Ahead of the blowers is the dozer. While it is impressive to watch the blowers, they can only deal with snow that levels out at five feet, which is the maximum clearance for the blowers. The dozer is, according to Zeiger, probably the most physically demanding job when it comes to clearing the highway.


The driver of the dozer is tasked with leveling the snow out to the five foot level for the blowers. It isn't as simple as just leveling snow, however. To determine the depth of the snow, the driver has to periodically get out of the dozer and run a rod through the snow to determine its depth. Clearing an average of a half-mile of highway each day means that the driver is in and out of his dozer on a regular basis.

When WYDOT begins the process of snow removal from the byway, it's common practice to bring in recent hires to the department to get some experience. On Thursday, it was all local crew members, but I was informed that, the day before, an employee from Arlington had been up on the mountain helping with snow removal.

After getting to see these heavy machines at work, and getting to ride in the lead snow blower, Zeiger took me back down to my car. A storm was beginning to move in, but the crew showed no sign of stopping at that moment.

With luck, and no small amount of skill, it may not be too much longer before the Snowy Range is open and summer can "officially" begin.

Joshua Wood

Derrick Noyes operates the lead snow blower on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway.

 

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