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

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.