Unsung Heroes of the Strathcona Parkway

Emcon’s Unsung Heroes start their  shift on the Strathcona Parkway at 10 pm, working to 4 am so that  eager skiers and boarders can arrive at Mount Washington safelyA heavy snowfall descending on Mount Washington sends skiers and snowboarders scurrying to start their snowplow turns. For Emcon Services, a heavy snowfall sends their employees running to their snowplows.


Winter crews start working on the road in October, before the first flakes of snow even hit asphalt. “We usually have our first full-time night staff go on at Thanksgiving,” says Emcon Operations Manager Greg Ehman.

Emcon is four years into a 10-year contract with the Ministry of Transportation and Highways that ends in 2013, and so far they’re doing a great job, says Ministry Spokeswoman Susan Williams. “We’re really pleased with their performance so far,” she said. “Their role is to keep the road bare and black from top to bottom.”

Emcon accomplishes that with a rotating crew, most of which has experience on the mountain. Emcon employs three snowblowers (including one that can blow snow up to 150 metres away), graders and a large assortment of truck-mounted plows.

By the time ski season opens, Emcon has a three-person crew on the hill 24 hours a day. Their responsibility for the road begins at the Inland Island Highway at the Dove Creek interchange and ends at the Mount Washington Alpine Resort parking lots and continues into the residential areas.

“Our real goal is to get it looking really good when the Mount Washington buses go up,” Ehman said. Throughout the day crews keep the snow off the road, but at night they move it around and keep it organized. They have to keep on top of it because you never know when the snow will come.

They maintain the road as if there is going to be a prolonged heavy snowfall. Anything less and it’s too late. To do that, they use a ton of sand every winter and a “fair amount” of brine to keep the ice down.

Last year’s snowfall mostly came in a four-week period – in January. “It was a phenomenal amount of snow to deal with,” Ehman said.

Where does the snow go? Nowhere but up, Ehman explained. “For the most part, a lot of it’s blown up on the side of the hill. When the banks get too steep, we can’t get it over the side.”

When that happens, crews will wait until the graveyard shift and they will grade the snow back onto the road so the snowblowers have a chance to blow it up the banks again.

Blowing the snow away is impossible during a heavy snowfall, he said, because it comes down too fast. They try not to truck it away, though, because Emcon doesn’t have much capacity to store the plowed snow.

Other obstacles for crews are the cars that don’t bother to wear chains, and slip and slide off the road. Crews aren’t equipped to pull these cars out of the ditch, but they do what they can to contact the towing company for assistance. A car blocking the road means plowing grinds to a halt.

Graveyard shift (from 10 pm to 4 am) is also the time crews replenish the stockpile of sand from the Transportation Ministry’s sandpit on the logging road at the bottom of the hill.

How much does it cost to keep Strathcona Parkway bare and black? It depends on the year, says Ehman. “Last year was expensive – two years ago was really cheap,” he said.

”I think that hill gets more road equipment in the winter than any other highway in the Province,” he said.