Snow Conference withstands all challenges

R. Kevin Clark, Editor, APWA Reporter
Michael Long, Project Manager, APWA Education Department

It looks like nothing will keep our members from learning how to fight the snow.

There's no doubt that attendance at APWA's 43rd Annual North American Snow Conference was confronted with a number of challenges leading up to the conference, including a slowing economy, budget cuts in public agencies, SARS, and the war in Iraq.

Nevertheless, more than 800 snowfighters from all over the United States and Canada gathered recently in Quebec City to absorb the prodigious amount of available winter maintenance information. This year's premier event for snow and ice management took place April 27-30 at the Quebec City Convention Centre and was hosted by the Quebec Chapter.

"The conference was a great success, and everyone seemed to like Quebec City," said Alain Legault, Director of Public Works, Montreal-Nord, and Secretary of the Quebec Chapter. "We received many more participants than we thought there would be, considering all the world problems occurring at the time of the conference."

"It was one of the best Snow Conferences I've ever been to," said Bret Hodne, Superintendent of Public Works, City of West Des Moines, Iowa, and member of APWA's Winter Maintenance Subcommittee. "The subject matter was very timely, and the cross section of people there was interesting. We heard presentations from people all the way from the State of Washington to across Canada, the Midwest, and the East Coast. There was a good representation of topics and issues that are going on across the entire region of North America."

The conference began this year with an Opening General Session on Sunday afternoon immediately followed by a reception at the opening of the exhibit floor. Providing opening remarks for the session were Jean-Paul L'Allier, Mayor of Quebec City; APWA President Marty Manning; and Michel Frenette, APWA Quebec Chapter President. "The gathered presence here for this conference demonstrates that snow and ice are big issues we all must deal with," said Frenette. "I have been an engineer for the City of Montreal since 1986, and like many of you, my whole year is spent developing snow elimination and road treatment strategies, coordinating contractor services and bids, checking out new equipment, and the like."

A humorous surprise for the attendees was the inclusion of a comedy skit right before the Keynote Speaker, Cary Mullen, took the stage. The skit, acted out by TACCOM Company, put everyone in good spirits as the cleverly-scripted skit drew on the dilemmas faced by public works snow and ice professionals. The skit was planned by Jean-Guy Courtemanche, the Quebec Chapter's Snow Conference Committee Chair.

Cary Mullen's presentation, filled with video and stories of high-speed skiing victories, losses, crashes and triumphs, had an important message for attendees—"Don't give up on your goals"—his being to win a World Cup. After a terrible crash, Mullen lived with a serious concussion for months that kept him from being able to do even the most mundane of tasks such as reading or writing. Having a major turn in his health, Mullen, from Calgary, Alberta, went on to become a 1994 World Cup Champion and the recordholder of the fastest skiing speed ever achieved. He reached that goal through trial and error, constantly trying out new techniques in wind tunnels embodying his message of the importance of not giving up.

Following the Opening General Session, the exhibit floor opened at 5:00 p.m. and featured more than 100 vendors showcasing the very latest products and technologies necessary in snow and ice management and winter operations. "We received many positive comments regarding the exhibit floor, from the wide variety of products and services represented on the floor to the great door prizes the exhibitors contributed," said Brenda Shaver, APWA Manager of Meetings.

Starting Monday, the General Session presented in the "talk show" format continues to be a hit with attendees. This year's session, "The Future of Winter Operations: Technology and Doing More with Less," was a timely subject matter as budget cuts across North America are impacting public works agencies. Bret Hodne was the talk show host and opened the session by presenting the highlights of what winter maintenance managers like him are facing. The audience was truly engaged as attendees from Alaska, Ontario, New York, Minnesota, Washington and elsewhere contributed to the discussion.

The concurrent education session program began after the talk show session concluded. A unique aspect to this year's education program was that one out of four sessions was presented in French and interpreted into English, which allowed the native French-speaking winter maintenance professionals of Quebec to share their knowledge with fellow Canadians and Americans. Also, to accommodate an exchange of knowledge between French and English speakers, a second session out of four was translated from English to French.

The hottest topic again this year was anti-icing, ranging from discussions on how to use salt brine to results from experimental testing projects. Also popular were discussions on Roadway Weather Information Systems (RWIS), fleet management, GPS and AVL projects, snow hauling and disposal, legislative issues, and other new technologies and techniques such as Driver Assistive Systems for Snowplow Trucks and a Maintenance Decision Support System being developed to aid managers in deciding how to tackle specific conditions.

For the Closing General Session, Jean-Guy Courtemanche and Tom DeMaio, APWA Board Director for Region I, shared closing remarks, and the Bluegrass Branch of the Kentucky Chapter charged up attendees for next year's conference in Lexington on April 25-28, 2004. Murray Banks, the Keynote Speaker for the session, was truly a hit with the audience as he incorporated public works and snow management-related cartoons and visuals into his presentation. When it comes to issues in our lives at work and home, Murray said, "You need to ask yourself is this a 10—very important, or is it a 2—not so important," meaning that we need to stop letting little things dominate our day and focus on what is truly important.

On Tuesday evening, at the Snow Celebration Banquet, a good time was had by all. Passions, a Quebec band featuring singer and instrumentalist Carole Vincelette, entertained the attendees throughout the entire evening with a variety of musical styles. Plus, the food was great, according to Shaver. "It was served French style, where the food is brought to the tables in bowls, and then the servers dish it onto your plate at the table," she said. "Both the food and the entertainment at the banquet were excellent."

On Wednesday morning, more than 200 people gathered to go on the Technical Tour that took attendees to Henri-Bourassa artificial glacier, Quebec City's largest snow disposal site. It was the end of April, and the snow was still about two school bus heights tall. Snow removal is so important to the city economically (because of tourism) that the city could repave every street and highway every year for what it spends on snow removal of its streets and sidewalks.

After going to the snow disposal site, tour attendees were taken to the city's main equipment shop and yard where attendees got a tour of the shop and walked around, looking at the city's massive amounts of snowfighting equipment. "We don't get the opportunity to see this large of equipment very often down in the States," Hodne said, referring to a two-ton rig hauling an 800 horsepower engine on the back that powered an approximately 10 ft. by 10 ft. blower on the front of the truck. It was explained by a city employee that this blower is only for the open road, because on one occasion they took it down a city street and it blew out all the storefront windows.

Many compliments were also heard about Quebec City, a great city that had much to offer conference attendees. "It's a beautiful city, with many things to do within walking distance," Shaver said. Hodne added, "For those of us who were able to partake a little bit of sightseeing, some of the historic districts and sights in the city were breathtaking."

In short, this was an excellent conference as many attendees raved about the venue, the education sessions, the general session speakers, the tour and the exhibit floor. Ed Boselly, Snow and Ice Program Manager for Washington State DOT, sums it all up: "I've been going to Snow Conferences since 1989 and this was the best I've been to. The venue was great, the program outstanding, and the food wonderful."

A big "thank you" goes to the Quebec Chapter, led by Host Committee Chair Jean-Guy Courtemanche, for all of their hard work before and during the conference to make it a truly memorable and unique experience for everyone.

See you next year at the 2004 North American Snow Conference on April 25-28, 2004 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kevin Clark can be reached at (800) 848-APWA or at kclark@apwa.net; Michael Long can be reached at (800) 848-APWA or at mlong@apwa.net.