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About Squamish locals who plow your driveway, parking lot or street

With a winter storm warning in effect for this weekend, TopHat Industries has insights and tips for when the white stuff falls.
Snowplow
Adam Smolcic of TopHat Industries Inc. with Jeff McDonald of JMLT Contracting, one of his subcontractors. (They will be up early and out late as a storm moves in this weekend!)

Squamish’s Adam Smolcic and his private snow removal crew at TopHat Industries Inc. have been plowing their way through December, literally. 

"This has been the busiest year we've had probably in the last four or five years. It's been absolutely insane. And I can't tell you how tired me and my guys are, but it has been wonderful," Smolcic told The Squamish Chief on the morning of Dec. 31. 

The company has everything from plows and ATVs to mini excavators and bobcats to remove snow from residential, strata and commercial properties around town. The company also shovels roofs and lays down salt, which has been a hot commodity with our frigid temperatures. 

"It's been quite cold. So, there's been a lot more ice than there has been in the past," he said. 

Through December, Squamish has experienced several days of an arctic outflow that dipped temperatures, with the wind chill, down to -22 C. 

The cold temperatures mean that it is harder for crews to move snow that has piled up. 

“It's pretty hard on people who procrastinated or maybe weren't in town when [the snowfall] happened," Smolcic said. 

"The snowplows have left quite a frozen berm in front of their house and these things can't be taken up by a plow. You need to bring in machinery for that. I mean, you just destroy your equipment, otherwise. It's been a lot harder on those people. They didn't expect that and now they have this added expense."

Smolcic said if possible, snow should be moved while it is soft before it hardens and becomes a problem.

Currently, there is an Environment Canada winter storm watch in effect for Howe Sound, which means even busier days ahead in the new year for snow removal crews. Saturday and Sunday, snowfall accumulations of 25 to 45 cm are expected. 

Snow is forecast for Squamish right through next week as well.

Dealing with the snow isn't a job for folks who like cushy conditions or typical hours. 

Most folks want snow clearing done by the time they leave for work, so Smolcic and his crew are out at about 3 a.m., plowing through until 7 a.m. and then they start on their freelance (non-contract) calls. 

When they are salting, crews are typically out around 9 p.m. until about 1 a.m. 

"We have contracts where we have to clear the snow at five centimetres, so we will be out all night long," he said. 

On Friday, they were preparing for the frozen deluge to come.

"What we're trying to do right now is we're making plans of where we're going to put [this next dump of snow]. At a lot of our complexes, like the Riverstones complex on Government Road, we're actively removing the snow from that site. There's nowhere else to put it. We've pushed all the snow we can push in those places. And now it's time to get rid of it. So we're just preparing and making sure our sites are able to handle that much. And then, you know, we're praying we get some sleep."

The company has a private landowner who takes the collected snow. Smolcic noted that it can't be put just anywhere because it is considered contaminated due to the salt in it.

Jurisdiction considerations

Smolcic said sometimes folks will try to flag crews down to get them to do municipal or provincial roads. 

As much as they want to help everyone, they are not allowed to tackle those due to insurance restrictions. 

"That's technically a violation if we were to do that… because we don't have city roads insurance, so we have to be careful with that," he said. 

Hazards of the job

Smolcic said hiding under the snow can be anything from a simple hand tool to a metal container, maintenance hole cover, drain, uneven patch of pavement or a pesky speed bump. 

"We service a lot of gas stations. Those gas-fill caps for big trucks that come in and actually fill up the stations — those are always a hazard for us as well. So we tend to hand shovel those locations," he said. 

However, some items the plow uncovers aren't as serious a risk. 

This week, a homeowner asked him to clear her lawn of snow for a family gathering. The plow picked up a barbecue and a tricycle, Smolcic said, with a laugh. 

Snow tips

Smolcic said kids often play in the snow piles at family complexes. While not advisable, drivers will give a honk to alert parents to come to take their kids out of the way, he said. 

His advice for drivers is to give plows the space they need. 

"If you see a plow, stay back. There's no sense in tailgating us," he said. "We're looking back a lot, but you know, sometimes we just don't see you. So, keep a good distance; give us a beep if you don't think we see you. But give us some space, that's for sure."

The worst thing for crews is snow that is piled where it shouldn't be. 

"A lot of people are pushing it into the roadway, which is actually illegal," he said. "If you're going to shovel your driveway, or if you're going to plow somebody's property, you need to put the snow in an appropriate place." 

Smolcic also said that clearing drains of snow is a good idea, as is making a path for snow before it melts. 

"People [think] it's just going to melt, and it's gonna run, but if you cut a channel for it to run before it starts running, you can kind of decide where it's gonna go."

Be sure to clear snow from close to the house or building, too, he said. 

"The most important thing is if you can shovel snow away from your foundation, you're going to do yourself a favour."

For more on TopHat Industries Inc.'s snow removal and other services, go to its website.

"About a local" is a regular column that features an interesting Squamish local. Have an idea for someone we should feature? Email jthuncher@squamishchief.com.