North American Snow Conference in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes"

Ashley Scherzer
Project Manager, Adult Learning
APWA Kansas City Office

APWA's Snow Conference may have been in St. Paul, Minnesota, April 22-25, but there was no shortage of representation from all parts of North America and beyond. Speakers and attendees came from the far reaches of Newfoundland in Canada, to overseas in the United Kingdom and Sweden, and even New Zealand.

Attendees meet with exhibitors at the 2007 North American Snow Conference.

Hosted by the Minnesota Chapter of APWA, this year's conference broke records in attendance and exhibit space. More than 1,800 people preregistered for the conference, and there were 135 exhibiting companies with equipment and product displays spanning over 60,000 square feet at the St. Paul RiverCentre. This was the second year that heavy equipment and motorized vehicles were included in the exhibit program. One could find anything needed for winter maintenance on the show floor, from Snow Dragon's giant snow melter, to a 2"x2" sample of an anti-icing pavement overlay system from Cargill SafeLaneTM. Traffic was steady on the exhibit floor throughout the conference. Kevin Van Overschelde, from Monroe Truck Equipment, Inc., commented that this was "the best tradeshow as far as traffic on the floor" that he had seen in his 17 years of exhibiting.

Less than a week before the Snow Conference, parts of Illinois and New York saw the last of Old Man Winter's fury, but it didn't stop the snowfighters from showing up. Sunday was the first day of the conference and the education sessions kicked off the day with topics such as anti-icing, staffing solutions, and best practices for snow and ice management.

Opening General Session speaker Dave Horsager presents his magical snowstorm for the audience. (Photo credit: Brittany M. Dengerud)

At Sunday's Opening General Session, attendees were welcomed by Chris Coleman, Mayor, City of St. Paul; Carol Molnau, Minnesota Lt. Governor and Commissioner of Transportation; APWA President Bill Verkest; and Rick Person, Chair, Minnesota Chapter Snow Conference Host Committee. Opening General Session speaker and illusionist, Dave Horsager, combined his message of strategies for leadership and success with stunning illusions, for a magnificent and often humorous presentation. For the grand finale, Dave dazzled the audience with his magical snowstorm shooting from his hands, covering the speaker and stage.

Monday opened with the ever-popular "Talk Show." There was a new twist this year, with an official host, Ann Johnson, President, Professional Engineering Services, Wayzata, Minn., and even a "Top 10" list of inevitable snow situations. The Talk Show session, "Snow Fighting Around the World," consisted of five guests: Lynn Bernard, Utah DOT; Mark Dutton, Safecote Limited, UK; Dominic Guthrie, City of Toronto, Ont.; Joe Imholte, City of St. Cloud, Minn.; and Mike Lashmet, New York State DOT. All of the panelists face very different challenges within their agencies, each having a variety of lane-miles, budgets, snowfall, etc. The panel responded to pressing audience questions such as, "Have any of you done any long-term research on the effects of magnesium chloride on your truck components or bridges?" and "What type of training do you do for your drivers for winter maintenance?"

Anti-icing and deicing seemed to be the hot topics once again this year with at least one session a day addressing these topics. Dale Houdeshell, APWA Region VI Director, was among the many who attended the session, "Experiences in Blending Chemicals for Anti & Deicing Use." "It's exciting to see the advances in deicing in the last 10 years, particularly with the cutting-edge technology that's being used through experimentation by the practitioners at our public agencies," said Houdeshell. "By doing their own experimentation they are able to put the product into use much more quickly than waiting on a manufactured product."

A common attitude prevalent at the show was that snow budgets are shrinking, and many agencies are being forced to "do more with less." Attendees were able to talk about these challenges through roundtables—such as workforce development and peer-to-peer exchange—during and after sessions. There were several "do more with less" sessions to choose from such as "Harnessing Innovation: Creative Solutions to Age-Old Problems," given by Diana Clonch and John Thorpe, Ohio DOT, and "It's Time to Think Outside the (Truck) Box!" presented by Neal Jaspers, City of Fort Collins, Colo.

Training was another issue that was very popular throughout the conference. Thanks to Brian Miller and Dennis Burkheimer from the Iowa Department of Transportation, attendees were able to sit inside an actual 22-foot snowplow simulator trailer that IDOT takes across the state to train all of their equipment operators. The simulator trailer consisted of three 42" plasma screens with 180-degree view, plus rearview mirrors, a wing and plow, and spreader control. The simulator teaches proper driving and plowing techniques that can be controlled and monitored by the instructor.

Minnesota has a unique snowplow operator training program as well. In the session "Snowfighter Instruction that Hits the S.P.O.T.," participants learned that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has an annual statewide training program that stemmed from the need for consistent, quality operator training, while simultaneously conserving financial resources. Mn/DOT trains their drivers through comprehensive, two-week training programs on a restricted military base. Plow operators are able to practice moves, such as "gang plowing," that are nearly impossible to practice on public roadways, other than in an actual event. This venue provides a dusty scenario, which is similar to the significantly reduced visibility in snow.

Conference Host Committee Chair Rick Person and APWA Board member Dale Houdeshell shared closing remarks during the Closing General Session. Legendary outdoorsman Babe Winkelman, the session's keynote speaker, was a real "catch" with the audience with stories of being snowed in as a kid, fishing quips, and an environmental message to which the audience related. Winkelman's message was that we can learn much about the environment by the well-being of the fish, and it is "our" job to be responsible for what chemicals we use in snowfighting and how they are used.

On Tuesday evening attendees gathered for a Gangster Buffet and Cabaret Banquet at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in a beautiful ballroom overlooking the Mississippi River. The ballroom was transformed into a speakeasy club called "The White Palms," and the banquet theme was "Gangster Buffet & Cabaret!" Attendees were taken back to the days in St. Paul where fast action made for great times. Club regulars Al Capone, Rocco Fishetti and Roxie Hart mingled with the guests as they dined on great food and listened to smooth jazz music in the background. After some great magic tricks by Rocco Fishetti, the audience was captivated by Paul Maccabee, author of the book John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936 as he told real-life gangster stories he uncovered through years of researching FBI files and interviewing gangsters and crime victims from the era.

Conference attendees are welcomed at the "Snow Fighting Equipment of Minnesota" Technical Tour at Mn/DOT's Central Services Shop.

The conference concluded on Wednesday with two Technical Tours that sold out before the conference even started. The Snow Fighting Equipment of Minnesota tour went to the Mn/DOT Central Services Shop at Fort Snelling where attendees could "kick the tires" and "look under the hood" of over 30 pieces of snowfighting equipment from seven metro area agencies, including Mn/DOT. Staff was available to answer any questions about the equipment and services. The fabrication shop seemed to draw a lot of interest and many people stopped to talk to the head mechanic. The second tour took participants to the Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC) and the I-35E Lexington Bridge. The attendees were able to see Mn/DOT's state-of-the-art Operations Center where State Patrol Dispatch, Maintenance Dispatch and Traffic Operations work together to provide a safer trip on Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area freeways, especially during snow events. Then they went to the I-35E Lexington Bridge to see an anti-icing system and how it functions. It is a fully-automated system, but when conditions worsen, maintenance dispatch is able to manually change the settings if necessary.

If you missed the conference or a particular session, handouts provided electronically by the presenters are now available at www.apwa.net/meetings/snow/2007/.

APWA is in the process of gearing up for the 2008 Snow Conference in Louisville, Ky. If you have something you would like to share with others at next year's show, the Call for Speakers is now open for 2008. It's simple! Visit www.apwa.net/speakatsnow for information on how to submit, or contact Ashley Scherzer at (816) 595-5214. If you are interested in exhibiting, contact Diana Forbes at (816) 595-5242 or dforbes@apwa.net.

See you next year at the North American Snow Conference, April 13-16 in Louisville, Kentucky!