A Whole New Take on a Rodeo

April 13, 2017
After just one year, the IASS Snow Plow Rodeo rapidly becoming a great event for letting snow removal personnel to show off their skills and give their job the recognition it deserves.

After seeing tremendous success with the inaugural event in 2016, the International Aviation Snow Symposium (IASS) will once again host the snowplow rodeo and barbecue.

Jay D. Ball, director of facilities and grounds for the Roanoke Regional Airport Commission, who co-chairs the rodeo, said he got the idea for having the competition at the symposium from lighting classes he attended in the early 1980s in South Bend, Indiana, where they had a similar event.

After seeing how competitive and what a morale booster the competition was for the snow fighters, Ball said he wanted to see that at his own airport.

“The competition was just unbelievable when I went there,” he said.

When Ball came to Roanoke he brought the competition to the airport. He took it to the committee at the symposium and everyone agreed it was a great idea.

The crew at Buffalo Niagara International Airport worked with the committee as well to prepare the course for the competition, Ball said. About 50 people signed up, which he said was a surprise.

“Everyone that we spoke with last year said ‘hey, you got to do it again,’ so we’re going to continue on,” Ball said.

The second annual snowplow rodeo and barbecue will take place April 26, in conjunction with the NEC/AAAE International Aviation Snow Symposium, being held April 22-26 in Buffalo, New York.

The rodeo tests the skills of the operators through a course set up at the airport. Competitors are timed as they maneuver their way through cones in a plow truck with a 22-foot plow attached. Combining speed, skill and ability, competitors work through a serpentine course; backing into a loading spot where they’re judged and scored on the maneuver; and even a station where they have to determine where the plow is by using it to push a plunger in.

“It’s the skill and ability of the operator to maneuver such a large piece of equipment through a course,” Ball said. “You kind of think that on the airfield it’s wide-open, but there’s lights, there’s nav aids and all other kinds of obstacles out there and that operator needs to know where his implements are at all times, otherwise the electricity is going to get upset if you start knocking lights over.”

Joe Guarino, airfield superintendent for Buffalo Niagara International Airport, said the rodeo course was designed by Ball and Tim Haizlip, director of maintenance, Louisville Regional Airport; who were assisted by Matt Gabbert, senior manager airport maintenance, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; Greg Chapin, account representative Franklin Paint; Tom Swanek, field maintenance manager, Omaha Airport; Ryan Rockovitz, superintendent of maintenance, Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority; and Jim Moorhead, airfield maintenance supervisor, Pittsburgh International Airport.

Guarino said from his staff, Pete Robbins, maintenance supervisor and John Kwasniewski, assistant maintenance supervisor with his department, were also instrumental in helping to make the rodeo such a huge success in 2016.

He said the event generated a lot of interest from the local press and lots of spectators even came out to see the rodeo firsthand.

With the competition and a barbecue catered by Fat Bob’s, the event is just a way they can thank the workers out there who keep airports open in winter weather with a fun event.

“Its hard work so we really wanted to recognize them for the work they do,” Guarino said.

Not only is there awards for the top three participants for the rodeo, but Ball said there’s also a traveling trophy that goes back to their home airports for the year.

Pittsburgh International Airport took the top honors in 2016 and Ball said he knows there are plenty of airports out there looking to knock them off the top spot in 2017.

“I know I have one operator that’s just ready to go,” Ball said. “It’s the excitement and it’s something different at the snow symposium, which is down at the convention center and this gets them out to the airport and they can drive the equipment and compete, which is just human nature.”

“It’s a good time. Not only is it fun, but you’re building comradery with other snow fighters from other airports,” Ball said. “And there’s the overall competition. You can talk the talk, but let’s see if you can walk the walk and get out there and run with the big dogs if you will.”

Creighton Pritzlaff, director of sales and marketing for Wausau Equipment Co., said the company got involved in the rodeo because it’s not only an opportunity to extend gratitude to the snow removal workers, but to give them a chance to showcase their skills.

“We recognize it’s a terrific opportunity for equipment operators to demonstrate their skills and it gives them some well-deserved recognition for the hard work that they do to keep airports open in the middle of winter,” he said. “These guys who actually run the equipment are sort of the unsung heroes of civil aviation and we’ve got a lot of respect for the community of airport field maintenance workers.”

Prtizlaff said the snow removal workers have an incredibly difficult job, but tend to be invisible to the general public, so events like the rodeo provide a valuable chance to raise awareness of the valuable skills the snow removal equipment operators possess.

“I think this is a great opportunity for these guys to get some appreciation and recognition, and there’s some good natured competition that takes place,” he said. “These guys have unique jobs in a unique environment, so there’s natural camaraderie and this sort of event talks to that.”

Pritzlaff said the popularity of the rodeo comes from the pride snow removal workers have in their jobs and the recognition that not everyone can do this type of work. It’s a one of a kind event where they can showcase these skills.

“People take a lot of things for granted and this is an opportunity for them to see just how challenging it is to operate this oversized runway equipment," he said. "The plows are practically twice the length of an ordinary highway plow that people encounter of a daily basis. It’s a much more challenging job than running your average snowplow."

About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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