Aspen snow jobs: buried and busy
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” In a winter when Ullr, the Norse god of snow, has draped Aspen skiers in his fluffy bounty in a succession of record-breaking dumps, local snow removal companies are still scrambling.
Even with the recent lull in big storms, private snow removal crews are busy clearing roofs, and scraping up rutted snow and ice on local sidewalks and driveways.
“We’re still running full force,” said Reese Stephenson, general manager of Aspen Snow Removal, Inc.
In business since the 1990s, the company handles residential and commercial properties, and is the only local operator with large machines like industrial loaders.
Stephenson said Aspen Snow Removal joins Snow King of Aspen and Four Seasons Property Maintenance and Landscaping as the “big three” snow-pushing companies in Aspen.
“The abundant snowfall has created a lot of extra work,” Stephenson said. “There’s no such thing as a 40-hour work week in snow removal.”
Aspen Snow Removal charges per job based on a price negotiated with clients at the beginning of the season.
Stephenson’s crews run two large loaders for bigger jobs, as well as five small skid loaders, or “Bobcats,” that can scoot in and among parked cars and in tight driveways.
All local companies cart snow to private, permitted snow dumps within the county.
“We’re always staffed up,” Stephenson said, adding he manages a crew of 25 guys and mostly sticks to the downtown area.
The majority of customers are returning clients. And while he fields regular complaints, Stephenson said, “For the most part everybody in town realizes there is a lot of snow this year.”
But the recent lull in major storms hasn’t been a break.
“Really the sunshine just adds more challenges,” Stephenson said, adding that melting snow creates black ice and softens snowpack.
Extra cleanup jobs, however, don’t necessarily mean more revenue.
Long hours and heavy snows are hard on the heavy equipment, Stephenson said.
“The more work you do, the more equipment you break and the more costs you incur,” he said.
Some companies arrange a flat seasonal rate for snow removal, and big snow years can even translate into a loss.
“It’s meant a lot of early mornings and long days,” said Daugald Gillies, owner of Four Seasons Property Maintenance.
And it’s not always easy to keep clients happy, Gillies said.
Many of them demand immediate service to have their roof shoveled, for example. But Gillies’ crews have to prioritize and take care of emergency situations ” such as ice dams and roof leaks ” before other calls for service. And that has created some frustrations.
Gillies charges each time crews do a job, but half of Gillies’ clients have seasonal contracts ” an agreement that crews will plow an area when there is a certain amount of snow, which typically is from two inches to four.
“It’s not a good year for seasonal,” Gillies said.
Competition is friendly, but Gillies stressed it’s not in anyone’s interest to have businesses underbidding one another ” it just lowers the level of service.
“It’s not a a long-term business proposition to go in and undercut each other,” Gillies said. “It’s an expensive business to be in.”
Gillies’ business is year-round. His crew of 25 workers knows how to respond to clients, and he called himself “lucky” to have a seasoned crew.
“It’s a nasty business in that you can’t predict when the snow is going to come,” Gillies said. “You can’t make commitments to your clientele.”
The key to success, Gillies said, is communicating and staying ahead of clients’ expectations.
“That’s been the real battle this year,” he said.
Small operators have been “coming out of the woodwork” this year, Gillies said. And just about anyone with a pickup and a shovel has gotten into the action.
“It’s been super busy,” said Susan Atchison, who along with husband Brad, owns Snow King in Aspen.
Her husband recently had a streak of 40 days working with a day off. And even with the recent break between storms, Snow King crews still are busy clearing roofs or breaking up thick snow cap on sidewalks which, when it drains, creates deep ruts.
In a business with such large overhead costs, however, Atchison said this year’s bumper crop of snow has been like playing “catch up” for the light winters in recent years.
Local snow removal companies charge similar rates, Atchison said ” about $90 per hour for a small skid loader ” but with fuel prices rising, those costs and fees could go up.
“We’ve been booked. I haven’t been able to take on more clients,” Atchison said. But area snow removal companies work together and share clients when one company has a full slate.
“Be nice to your plow driver,” Atchison said with a laugh. They work long hours ” often around the clock ” and roof shovelers take on the grueling, dangerous task with no fear.
“Hats off to them this year,” Atchison said.
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