Snow is flying, ski conditions are improving and it looks to be a busy weekend on the slopes.
However, driving to the mountains may be more challenging this winter due a shortage of snowplow drivers.
Skiers who race up Century Drive to get first turns in fresh powder have a love-hate relationship with snowplows.
They need snowplows to clear the road so they can get to the mountain, but they hate being stuck behind them.
“Now that Bachelor is open you see a solid line of cars behind me wanting to get up to the mountain. They are also coming at me,” said Brian Haisley, an Oregon Department of Transportation snowplow driver. “They don’t like it to much because when you are cutting the centers; you are kind of crowding them and it scares them but I’m here to do my job and make the roads safe for everybody.”
Making the road to Bachelor safe for everybody is harder this year due to a shortage of qualified snow plower operators.
The most likely impact is less frequent plowing which means more difficult driving conditions.
“People might see one lane plowed instead of all the lanes plowed, or plowing happening during daylight hours and not so much at night,” said Kacey Davey, ODOT Public Information Officer. “We’ll be shifting our plows to the busiest roads where we can do the most good. We are still short positions.”
ODOT is hiring new snowplow drivers but it takes years to get proficient operating the 50,000-pound vehicles with 13-speed transmissions, front plows, wing plows, and traction sand spreaders.
“The faster we go, the harder it is on our equipment. Our plows will start to jump. It makes a rougher ride for everybody. It doesn’t benefit anybody for us to go fast,” Haisley said.
There were two plows working on Century Drive Wednesday morning, but one operator got called away to plow on Highway 97 as the snow started sticking at lower elevations.
It’s a classic example of focusing limited snowplow operators on the roads that do the most good for the most motorists.
It means driving to Bachelor will be more challenging this winter, so be prepared with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicles, snow tires, chains, and loads of patience.
“We are short-staffed. We are trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. Be patient with us. Be prepared,” Haisley advised.