The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

COVID is this winter's monkey wrench. Some thoughts on how to prevent it from gumming up your snow and ice management ops.

November 13, 2020

I’ve fielded a number of phone calls lately from snow professionals concerned about the state of their operations heading into Winter 2020-21. However, the topics aren’t about the operational issues typical for this time of yea, such as salt supply, equipment management, or safety training. Rather, they’re centered around unique logistical issues we’re forced to face by these challenge times.

COVID-19, unfortunately, is still with us and its challenges will most likely persist throughout this winter. As preventative measures, contractors are implementing safeguards to ensure team members have as little physical contact with each other as possible. Fortunately, much of snow and ice management is already socially distanced. While one-to-a-truck is the norm, the key is to implement an event action plan that allows for the most effective response from crew members who interact as little as possible with one another.

Likewise, instead of having everyone converge on the shop before dispatching to various client properties, contractors are preparing crew members to bypass the shop and to report directly to job sites. For this to be successful, everyone must have a clear understanding of where they need to be and what they need to accomplish at their assigned destinations throughout an event.

Leading snow contractors recognize the most important component of a successful winter season is preseason planning. And as such, most veteran contractors have learned – either through trial or error – the benefits to having backup plans to their seasonal game plan in the event everything goes sideways during an event. This year though, an extra layer of precaution is a popular course of action as many contractors have told me they[re developing backup plans for their backup plans, especially when addressing scenarios where multiple crew members may have to quarantine for any extended time period.

While winter is unpredictable (we wish we could control the weather), having one key member quarantined during a major event is troublesome to your ops, but it’s generally survivable. Having multiple crew members sidelined during a major winter storm or a string of snow and ice events could be catastrophic to your business. And as the owner or top snow manager, who’s qualified to fill your shoes and make critical strategic decisions in the event you’re out of action?

And then there are those unique situations where these scenarios converge. Take, for example, properties where certain crew members have special access and only they are allowed onto the job site. This creates a unique challenge if one or all of them go down for any period. To manage for this, you could increase the number of crew members who have pre-approved access. This requires communication with and the cooperation of the client to approve these additional “reserve” employees. This, of course, may mean you have to hire (and pay) additional people to sit out events and wait in the wings in the event they’re need, but this cost is justifiable if you consider the short- and long-term losses to your business in the event your unprepared and shorthanded.

Communication with your team and your clients is key any winter, but it is paramount for the 2020-21 season. One of the unique things about living and working with COVID is that everyone must manage through the pandemic – including your clients. Now more than ever, your clients – given clear and concise communication about any predicament you find yourself in this winter – will most likely be sympathetic to your plight because they’re dealing with the same logistical issues. The leeway this affords you with clients may just be enough to catch your breath, clear your mind, and make the clear-headed decisions to get the job done and see your team through the event.

Remember, while thorough planning and clear communication are keys to a successful winter, this season they will be critical to your survival.  

Kevin Gilbride is the Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA). You can reach him at