Snowplow teams work in synch |

Snowplow teams work in synch

SDS/Bob Berwyn

James Phelps hops into the cab his Freightliner L80 snowplow and sander, lifts the blade slightly and rolls onto Main Street. With a deft, gentle touch, the plow cuts into the layer of snow caked on the road from an early December storm. The snow skims off easily and swirls out of the blade’s barrel in floury stream, adding to the ever-growing berm along the curb.

Phelps, the wiry and energetic manager of Breckenridge’s road and parks crew, has his job cut out for him this year with snowfall amounts breaking records. The combination of more cars and more snow means bigger challenges for the fully staffed and funded department.

“I can’t remember a season that started out like this,” Phelps said in November. “This season to date, we’ve already removed more snow than through the end of December last year.”

The truck rumbles up the steep grade of Ski Hill Road toward the Peak 8 base area, the blade gliding along with an occasional thump.

“We’ve had some pretty light winters recently,” Phelps said, explaining that many recently arrived residents haven’t seen this kind of early season snow and may have unrealistic expectations as to how quickly a particular street gets cleared.

Working 24-7, the plows concentrate first on the main collector streets – Boreas Pass Road, Park Avenue, Tiger Road and Ski Hill Road, to name a few.

Along with the 56 miles of roads, the parks division also has about 17 miles of sidewalk to clear.

“I just saw Doc P.J. riding his bike up here this morning,” Phelps said, referring to a well-known local resident. “He doesn’t miss too many days, even when it’s snowy,” he added, explaining that the crews work hard to ensure pedestrian and bicycle access.

It’s a critical job that prevents the town from literally choking on the very stuff that fuels its winter economy.

As Phelps heads up into Breckenridge Highlands, he points out one of the trouble spots, where a row of construction vehicles is parked along both sides of the road.

“That can have an impact on service,” he said. “The thing that’s not widely understood is if the roads are clogged with contractor vehicles some areas might miss the chance to get plowed.

The emphasis is on outreach and education, as Phelps asks residents to comply with town rules on parking to help the snow-clearing operation to go smoothly. And he said snow that falls on private property needs to remain there. If it’s pushed out in the road, it ends up as berm in the neighbor’s driveway, he explained.

Tooling down out of the Highlands, it’s obvious Phelps has been doing this at some level for quite some time – since 1986, to be exact, when he started out as a seasonal plow driver, working nights so he’d have time to ski.

The plows work as teams, with the one truck scraping the center of the road to keep the snow from ridging up in the middle. Another plow follows and pushes that berm to the side, where it’s later removed by snowblowers and dump trucks.

“There’s a synchronicity among the drivers,” Phelps says, explaining that the crews know exactly in which order to drive the designated routes for maximum efficiency.

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