GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - When Rick Turner first started plowing snow for the city of Glenwood Springs in 1982, he recalls piling it so high in the middle of Grand Avenue that cars on one side of the road couldn't see oncoming traffic.
"We would cut slots in the snow for turning cars to drive through," he said. "We don't get snow like that any more."
Today, Turner is the city's street superintendent, and although his seven-man crew didn't have to cope with mountains of snow last week, they were kept busy by a series of storms that dropped more than eight inches of snow in some parts of Glenwood Springs.
After a long dry spell in January, the recent dump had Turner and his crew back on their toes.
On Wednesday, when the snow started early, Turner was out at 2:30 a.m. on Midland Avenue with a motor grader, a machine equipped with a blade that can clear snow from an entire lane of traffic in one swoop.
The rest of his crew came in around 4 a.m. and spent most of the day plowing - they need a break in the storm before they can lay down a mix of sand (for traction) and salt (a melting agent), or to begin clearing snow.
"On busy days, some guys will work from 4 a.m. to about noon, then take a break, come back and work from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., then wake up and do it all over again," Turner said.
The crew includes four workers, Larry Billinger, Mike Hoban, Tom Morelli and John Tessadri, who have plowed snow for the city for decades.
The city's fleet of snow removal equipment includes three large snowplows that double as sanders, two smaller plow trucks, two pickup trucks equipped with plows, a front-end loader, a backhoe and the motor grader.
After a storm, roads are cleared in a specific order depending on their usage and importance as emergency access routes. Turner's department often takes tips from the police department, whose officers are constantly on patrol and are often the first to encounter routes that need clearing.
"We start with high traffic areas like Midland, Grand Avenue, school routes, and emergency routes to the hospital, then we go to steep streets, then we go to other residential neighborhoods," Turner said.
By late Friday, workers had piled snow into the middle of many Glenwood Springs thoroughfares and residential streets. Today they will begin hauling some of it away, to the old rodeo grounds on Airport Road, which serves as a "snow dump" for the city during the winter months.
At the lot, long dunes of dirty snow and chunks of ice sit piled from previous storms.
"We calculated that we've hauled about 750 tons of snow to the yard so far this year," said Turner. Each of the city's dump trucks can hold about 10 tons of snow, so that translates to 75 truck trips, even before cleanup of the most recent storms began.
"When you are hauling snow, your costs go up significantly," said Dave Betley, the assistant public works director for the city of Glenwood Springs.
He noted that city workers typically haul snow only from the most heavily used streets, and otherwise simply plow it to the center, where it drains into the sewers. In the spring, city crews typically do less hauling, since warmer temperatures that time of year melt the snow more quickly.
With sunny skies forecast until the end of next week, Turner and his crew are using the dry spell for cleanup.
Late Friday afternoon, they were busy using backhoes to clear turning lanes on Grand Avenue, keeping culverts and drains free of debris as the snow begins to melt, and patching up potholes all over town that form when water beneath asphalt freezes and expands.
"It's pothole season," said Turner. "Those will keep popping up all winter long."