Lack of snow hurts Steamboat businesses, helps customers |

Lack of snow hurts Steamboat businesses, helps customers

Jack Weinstein

Trucks typically used for plowing by Native Excavating are lined up at the Bald Eagle Lake parking lot waiting for snow. Mother Nature has slowed local companies that usually are busy clearing out parking lots this time of year.

The lack of snow this winter has been bad news for many of the businesses that provide snow removal services but good news for their customers — or at least for their wallets.

Operators who provide snowplow services only to stay busy during winter months, the city of Steamboat Springs and snow-removal service customers — at least those who don't pay a flat contract rate — generally are pleased with the decreased expenses. But large operators that hire seasonal staff to drive snowplows, and smaller companies that rely on six months of winter as a major source of income, are suffering.

"The expenses keep up," Shuv-It owner Frank Cefaratti said. "It's just, if it's not snowing, the income doesn't keep up. … It's not like I'm saving money because it's not snowing. I'm still spending money, maybe not as much, but I'm still spending it."

Cefaratti said he bought snow tires, chains, scoria and salt for the season in October and November. Shuv-It has 60 customers, but Cefaratti said he's plowed only four times this season, compared with 15 at this point last year. That's not enough to keep him on pace with last season's total of 50 plow days.

It's his customers who are benefiting, Cefaratti said. And they're not alone.

Medora Fralick owns The Commercial Property Group, a management company that administrates for homeowners associations of four residential neighborhoods and several commercial operations. She estimated that her clients, including Lake Catamount, Dakota Ridge, Sidney Peak Ranch and Agate Creek Preserve, have spent 10 percent as much on snow-removal services this year as they did at the same time in 2011.

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"So many things can go wrong for a (homeowners association), so it's a blessing every time we have a cost savings like this, which has been pretty substantial," she said.

High Point Roofing owner Jeremiah McGuire said his company hasn't had any rooftop snow removal jobs this year, and he's not planning on any. He said that's OK.

Although McGuire said rooftop snow and ice removal and other snowplowing services High Point offers provide work for his 12 employees during the winter, he estimates that those services account for only 8 to 10 percent of his annual business.

"It's been gorgeous to go outside and do things," McGuire said. "My guys are happy that they're roofing instead of shoveling snow. Nobody likes shoveling snow."

The lack of snow also has helped the city of Steamboat Springs' expense sheet, said Doug Marsh, the city's street superintendent.

In addition to not spending money on providing its snow removal services, the seven seasonal workers have been able to help the department's 13 employees with other projects. Marsh said they've taken 1,400 truck loads of material from the old sewer lagoons on the city's west side to be disposed at the wastewater treatment plant. The lagoons will be filled, graded and seeded in the spring as part of the Bear River Park project.

"If it snows all winter like it normally does, we wouldn't be able to do that job until spring, so we got a pretty good jump on it yet," Marsh said.

Public Works Director Philo Shelton said the city spent $698,000 on snow removal last year, after budgeting $606,000. It spent $674,000 in 2010 and $756,000 in 2009.

"We're getting stuff done. It's an opportunity to wrap up these projects we've had on the books," Shelton said before adding, "Obviously I'm hoping for some snow for our own economy."

Native Excavating Superintendent Chad Whitmore said without snow to clear for the company's nearly 300 residential and commercial clients, its employees aren't working.

"We sure would like it to snow and have something for them to do," Whitmore said. "We don't have anything else right now. We don't have anything to keep them busy. They're at home."

The Hayden School District also would like some snow. Superintendent Mike Luppes said the district has a flat-rate snow removal contract with R.N. Robinson & Son Inc. for the season.

Luppes said the district solicits bids by hour, storm and season, but the School Board has settled on the seasonal rate — not always unanimously — the past several years.

"Last year was a great deal," he said. "This year, there's a lot of year left. Speaking from my personal perspective, it wouldn't be worth it if it was like this all winter. But we'll be in a lot of trouble, for other reasons, if it's like this all winter."

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email

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