Mechanic Wayne Schneider points out settings on a computerized spreader control during a course he helped develop at the 2010 Snow School in Alliston, Ontario. Photo: Wellington County, Ontario
Mechanic Wayne Schneider points out settings on a computerized spreader control during a course he helped develop at the 2010 Snow School in Alliston, Ontario. Photo: Wellington County, Ontario

Training benefits both rookies and veterans

For those who can't make it to Ontario, tire manufacturer Bridgestone offers Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo. (Special events and other training programs are available by appointment year-round throughout North America.) The school has been operating for 29 years and is cosponsored by Toyota, which supplies vehicles for the program.

More than 76,000 participants have completed the Winter Driving School training, which operates seven days a week from mid-December through early March. The school includes six classes:

  • First Gear: An abbreviated four-hour winter driving skills class offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Second Gear: A full-day class offered seven days a week, covering how to handle vehicles in slippery and low-grip situations.
  • Third Gear: Teaches how to control vehicles in low-grip conditions, with entry-level tips used by rally race car drivers.
  • Fourth Gear (prerequisite: Third Gear): Students learn advanced techniques used by rally race car drivers.
  • Fifth Gear: A two-day school that teaches advanced skills of rally drivers: how to balance and control front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive vehicles.
  • Sixth Gear: A winter driving class for groups and companies. Elements such as team-building, conflict management, and team leadership training can be added.

Private Instruction is also available for those who want to learn one-on-one. To learn more, visit here.

By Kelley Lindsey

As experienced fleet managers know, preparing for harsh winter conditions means more than just tuning up trucks and plows. Winter training for operators and mechanics is also critical. That's why “snow school” programs are proving to be a wise investment for some cities and counties in cold-weather regions.

Canada gets its fair share of snow — 79 inches a year — and Wellington County, Ontario, Operations Manager Paul Johnson has done his part to help municipalities battle the elements. Since 2006, Johnson has worked with the Ontario Good Roads Association to develop and lead a winter training program for operators, patrollers, supervisors, and mechanics.

The association, founded in 1894, offered the first organized training for road building in Ontario. Among other services, the group established educational workshops for roads managers and their staffs on the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.

However, while most municipalities in the region allocated 50% of their roads budgets to winter preparation, only 10% of their training budgets were initially geared toward winter operations. To address this disconnect, the association established its Snow School, with training packages developed by a committee of the Ontario Road Salt Management Group.

During the three-day Snow School students learn subjects such as salt management, pre-trip inspection, snow and ice control materials and techniques, plowing techniques, weather, and Road Weather Information Systems — followed by an exam.

Soon after the peer-reviewed courses began, organizers realized a key element was missing: training for mechanics. “Mechanics are the ones who keep everything running,” says Johnson. “You can have the best equipment in the world, but if it's broken and no one can fix it, you're stuck.”

The Snow School for Mechanics module was added, covering maintenance of spreaders, hydraulics, and other snow-fighting equipment. In 2011, it officially became a one-day course, as mechanics couldn't be away from work for three days.

The mechanics' training concentrates on new winter maintenance materials and techniques, problems related to using liquids, computerized controllers, preventive maintenance, hydraulics, and troubleshooting, plus hands-on equipment demonstrations. Ontario Good Roads Association staff administers the courses, which are geared to both experienced and new mechanics. Johnson delivers three of the sections himself, while the other five are conducted by one of his mechanics and one of his county operators.

As of 2012, Johnson estimates around 120 mechanics and 3,000 operators from across Canada have been trained. He advises municipalities interested in starting their own snow school programs to tap into associations and local resources. “Because so much information is available, the cost [of starting a program] is negligible — but the benefits are exponential.”

The Snow School program costs association members $310 for the one-day mechanics' course and $1,500 for the full three-day course (including housing and meals). Nonmembers pay $400 for one day; $1,900 for three days. The three-day course takes place in Alliston, Ontario. The Snow School Mechanics Module takes place in Guelph. Plus, four courses are delivered by request at client locations. For more information, see “Education” at