Tips from a 33-year veteran snow plow operator

I got a rare treat today. I rode along with Steve, a Teller County Public Works employee in his snow plow. Steve is a veteran of driving a dump truck outfitted with a "high speed" plow. A huge conical-style orange plow edged with a carbide blade.

For thirty-three years Steve has been working the same Teller County roads, making sure they are clear of snow and slush and have the appropriate amount of sand for traction. Among the stories of "close calls" and "interesting outcomes," Steve shared some knowledge and experience he has gained over the last few decades when it comes to maintaining Teller County roads.


Teller County Snow Plow-photo courtesy of

Steve says there are a lot of things he would ask of the motoring public if he had the chance. One of the most important things is to give snow plows "plenty of room." I know that is something of a cliché, but it really means a lot for everyone's safety.

Snow plows are usually just a large, hydraulically-operated blade attached to a dump truck. As most people know, dump trucks don't handle like corvettes. Some drivers don't consider that fact when pulling out in front of snow plows, "because nobody likes to be behind a truck," Steve says.

Snow plow operators must maintain a constant forward speed to be able to properly clear the roadway. Any person who pulls out in front because they are in a hurry, usually end up losing their confidence and slowing down. This makes it very difficult to maintain the proper speed to clear the roadway of thick, wet, heavy, snow and mud.

Steve says, if you would just let the plow truck go ahead, you'll have a nice, safe road to drive on.

Distance is another area of concern for drivers when plows are operating. Keeping a safe distance, far away from flying snow, slush, water, and debris would seem to make sense. But Steve has seen it all, from drivers passing a plow on a two-lane road, to over-confident four wheel drive vehicles bouncing off his plow after they lost control.

"I came around a corner one time and this guy was in a four wheel drive and going too fast. He came over the center-line and his SUV ended up hitting my blade broadside even after I drove into the ditch to avoid him" Steve recalled. Even though the weight of the sand/salt mixture in the dump truck helps him maintain traction better than most cars and pickups, plow trucks can still lose control. So why not give them plenty of room, right?

Too many drivers seem to be in a hurry. People just hate to be inconvenienced and bored by getting stuck behind a plow for miles. Steve asks that we all please give them a lot of room to the rear also. He suggests following at such a distance that the swirling snow has a chance to settle on the roadway so you can see better. It will also prevent a cracked windshield from flying sand/salt mixture. The material, a 6% mix of salt in sand, is used to provide better traction and pierce ice crystals forming on the road. It is typically spread by a hydraulic spinning plate that allows the mixture to fall onto it while it spins, spreading the material under and beside the plow truck.

Sometimes, Steve says he has to stop and back up. This could be for a number of reasons, but typically because he needs to remove a dangerous "wind row," or ridge of plowed snow that is caused at the edge of the plow blade. Steve reminds us all that a stopped plow truck may be about to back up a short distance. A very good reason to refrain from trying to guess what that plow operator is going to do.

Although it was a short trip, I had a lot of fun getting out of the office for a couple hours today. I learned quite a bit from Steve. I also realized how much pride our County employees take in doing a good job for us. Whether that is a Deputy answering a dangerous domestic call, or Steve making sure your commute is safe.

I'll be riding again when we have more snow and hope to learn more and pass it along.

Be safe and be patient!

Cdr. Greg Couch, TCSO