Sunday profile: Paving the way — CDOT plow operator helps keep roads clear
Imagine: a light snow is falling and low, wispy clouds are clinging to the steep and jagged cliffs surrounding you. The cold river is steadily flowing through the winding and curving canyon that opens into the gates of Glenwood Springs. An eagle rests majestically on the remnants of a fallen tree resting just above the blue waters of the Colorado River.
“You couldn’t ask for a better office,” Daniel Montoya said while sitting behind the steering wheel of a bright orange snowplow.
Montoya, who was born and raised in Fort Garland, Colorado, has been an employee with the Colorado Department of Transportation since 2005. He has transferred locations on multiple occasions but admits that the Glenwood Springs area is his favorite.
“I really like this area. I love being in the mountains,” Montoya said.
While studying at Denver Technical College to get a degree in architectural drafting, he was working for a rental company and obtained his CDL.
“I’ve always been intrigued with machinery and big trucks,” he said. “It’s been that way since I was young.”
“My grandfather had a farm and I helped out on the tractors and bigger trucks through to my teenage years,” Montoya said.
As a fulltime CDOT employee, Montoya does work year-round; however, his favorite season is winter.
“I like plowing. I just like the snow and I like playing in it,” he said.
Although the long hours in winter don’t allow for much time to hit the slopes, Montoya enjoys sledding and snowshoeing with his family on his off days.
The amount of snow so far this season has been relatively normal, according to Montoya, but it hasn’t always been that way.
“When I first started in the winter of 2006 we worked every single day from the first weekend of October until the last weekend of February because it would snow during the weekends,” he said. “That was a long winter.”
From 2011 to 2018 Montoya was a heavy equipment operator which meant he was in charge of transporting and running equipment for various large-scale projects.
“Our biggest project was opening Independence Pass in the spring time,” he said.
Montoya and his crew are some of the first to see the snow accumulations on the high mountain pass every year.
“2007 was the snowiest year for me on Independence Pass – we didn’t get it open until the second week of June,” Montoya said.
As the current Glenwood Canyon crew leader, Montoya knows that a normal 9-5 schedule is unlikely during the busy winter months; and he’s just fine with that.
“Our shifts can run anywhere from eight to 16 hours, it just depends on what is going on.”
“If it’s a big snow event, we could work anywhere to 4:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night,” he said. “We aren’t really on call at the time but we know we are subject to getting called in. That’s just part of the job and I don’t mind it at all.”
Glenwood Canyon is notorious to sudden and sometimes long closures during this time of year. Rockslides and wrecks are common during inclement weather.
“Rockslides are always on our minds for sure. We haven’t ran into full-on rockslides but do run across the occasional rocks in the road,” Montoya said.
Whenever closures do happen, the snowplows are the first to go through. They clear the road in preparation for the reopening to ensure it is safe to drive on.
“We send the plows ahead of the traffic to clear the way,” he said.
Long hours on the road can wear anyone down, but Montoya finds joy in being one of the behind-the-scenes guys who make the roads safer for people to drive on.
“For me it’s just the gratification of being able to see what we are doing for the public,” Montoya said. “That’s probably the biggest benefit that I see.”
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