Monsters of machines: Multihog snow removal equipment is parked outside of Buck's T-4 conference room as part of the first ever snow removal safety meeting in Big Sky. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

A nod to Bob

The loss of Bob Jewel sparks Big Sky's first ever snow removal safety class

Snowblowers are 15,000 pound behemoths, steel monsters with teeth: potential man killers. They are also necessary contraptions to keep a snow community moving.

Around 60 snow removal professionals gathered at Buck's T-4 on December 3 for what organizers hope is the first annual community snow removal safety class. Robbeye Smaradich said the driving force behind the class was the remembrance of longtime Big Sky snow removal professional Bob Jewel – who died in a snow removal accident last year – as well as the desire to for those in the profession to come together for camaraderie, community and safety.

The group was attentive as Darin Smith, owner of Alpine Smith, Inc. of Lake Tahoe and certified snow removal professional with the Snow and Ice Removal Association offered a pro bono class which included discussion as well as three SIMA safety videos.

“There are two people who wrote the book on snow removal in Big Sky and that was Bob Jewel and Wayne Heath. If I had any questions I would always call Bob,” Mike Harter, owner and operator of Lone Mountain Enterprises said. “This [class] is important for the trade. I think it is easy to take for granted that we are working on dangerous roads in dangerous weather and operating dangerous equipment.”

Wooly – who just goes by Wooly –  with Pro Team Plowing said he has spent a few thousand hours running some of the most dangerous equipment you'll ever run. “When you touch flesh and bone with any of this stuff – consequences are pretty severe,” he said.

Smith pointed out that there were intense competitors sitting in the same room – coming together dspite that with an understanding of the importance of this training for the safety of themselves, their employees and the community.

“What is more important than speed and efficiency?,” Smith asked the group.

“Safety!,” participants yelled.

Dan Atkins with Pro Team Plowing said construction zones and tourists who don't understand the danger of being near the machines, as well as skiers with helmets and bluetooth headphones who have no idea a plow is heading toward them – all represent the tenuous line between safely performing job duties and calamity.

“In the current Big Sky environment, hazards are always changing,” Atkins said. “You cannot operate with impunity around [tourists].”

Smith brought up how kids tunnel into snowbanks, so snow removal operators need to be aware of any signs kids are playing in the area: a sled or kid's shovel on top of the snow, proximity to condominiums, the time of day.

Professionals are constantly working against fatigue – hearing the constant drone of the machines for 14 or 15 hours straight at times in an industry which champions speed and efficiency. Even the most seasoned guys admitted to cutting corners with regard to safety – and said it was a foolhardy practice.

Smith asked the crowd by a show of hands who had been injured on the job. About 10 people raised their hands. Smith shook his head from side to side. “We all have been in one way or another,” he countered.

The prevailing sentiment conveyed from Smith and business owners: break the machine before you hurt yourself or someone else.

Bill Hecker with Delzer Diversified Incorporated and SnowBiz described a situation when a car was driving erratically around him. Moments before the vehicle hit him, he drove the blower into a bank.

“One thousand pounds of spinning iron,” he said. “The quickest way to stop it was with a snowbank.”

Toni Delzer, co-owner of Delzer Diversified Incorporated and SnowBiz, spoke to the importance of the event and expressed her gratefulness to organizers who insisted on no public recognition. “We had a safety meeting the day after Bob was killed – a tragic day. It could have happened to any of us. It was a spark to snowplowing companies to up our game on having safety protocols in place,” she said. 

Snow safety takeaways:

  • Always keep safety equipment functional.
  • Perform regular checks of equipment.
  • Companies which communicate effectively stay safer: Many use company radios with specific frequencies.
  • Communicate with others (coworkers and competitors) about a light out or chain hanging.
  • Take care of yourself: dress, eat, rest appropriately.
  • Just because a customer asks for it doesn't mean it should be done: Learn to say no when safety is threatened.
  • Anticipate hazards.
  • De-ice equipment at night: it is more efficient and safer.
  • Be educated on all safety shut-off procedures.
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