Turf Tips: Snow Removal

For sports turf managers, we’ve had to weather the elements of 2020, quite literally.

With sports not being played in their respective seasons, we’ve had to adjust to make it possible for game play to continue. Some of you may have already experienced snow-covered fields during late fall playoffs, but what is in store for early spring? What does snow removal look like for different clubs around the globe and what are some for the best tried and true practices?

We gathered a panel of sports turf managers to speak to the topic of snow removal and asked them to share their experiences and tips they’ve learned along the way. We were joined by Aaron Ramella of the Buffalo Bills, Roger Weinbrenner, CSFM of Minnesota Sodding Company (MSC) and Andy Flynn of Michigan State. These three gentlemen are no strangers to snow removal and we asked them questions to prepare you for the early season play and snow in 2021.

1. How many fields do you maintain in snowy weather conditions?

  • AR: The Bills play on an open stadium with artificial turf. We also manage three natural grass practice fields.
  • RW: Since we are utilized on a contractor basis, it really depends on the winter conditions how many fields we will touch in a season. Just this fall we helped maintain over 20 separate fields during snowy winter conditions.
  • AF: In Michigan, snow is never out of the question. So, we maintain our baseball, softball and all our football and soccer fields. All of our game day fields are natural grass with the addition of two artificial practice fields.

2. What equipment are you utilizing to remove snow?

  • AR: For our natural fields we use tarps when we can and the stadium field is covered 99% of the time. When we do have to remove snow we are using two tractors to push the snow in addition to a Pro-Tec plow with rounded edges.
  • RW: For synthetic fields we are going in with two tractors equipped with turf tires and turf pushers with rounded edges. We want to have the least amount of weight per square foot.
  • AF: We use tarps whenever we can and swear by them. We also utilize toolcats with turf tires on them to plow and remove snow. In the event that we have to clear a field that didn’t have a tarp on it, it's an all hands on-deck event. We are using the toolcats and have 20-25 people using blowers and shovels to remove everything. When we are removing snow off the tarp we use a tractor to push snow off and then we have a tow behind blower that disperses everything the tractor can’t get.

3. How much labor does it take you to clear a field?

  • AR: If we’re working on clearing the practice field, two of us will tackle that job. For the stadium, we have a tarp crew of about eight to 10 people, then two guys will work on removing snow by plowing. Then about four to six people work on removing snow from the seats. Lastly, a landscaping company will come in and carry the snow out of the stadium.
  • RW: We plan to use two or three workers per field, this includes equipment operators and some hand shoveling. We will hand shovel any areas that the tractors cannot reach and we remove any equipment like nets and benches from the field as well. Depth of snow, air temperature and field layout all influence the amount of time it takes to clear a field.
  • AF: Depending on the gravity of the situation, we could have up to 25 people working on a field at once to remove snow but more typically we have about a 10-person crew. We are also fortunate to have our snow campus crew that we can call on. They will carry the snow out of the stadium which cuts a lot of our labor down.
Snow Removers
Snowy Soccer Field

4. What prep work do you complete before a snow event?

  • AR: If we know a snowstorm is coming in we will put covers down. We will also contact our equipment crew to clear the sidelines so that when we come in to remove we can clear without any challenges.
  • RW: We are always coming in after the fact on a contractor basis with little to no warning. Since our seasons were extended, everything was a surprise. We utilized Google maps to look at the field without snow on it and make sure we weren’t going to create a challenge for spring sports depending on where we moved the snow.

5. What considerations are made if you have to clear snow during events?

  • AR: During events the league will contact us for the plan. We will have to communicate with them to decide when we will cover and pull the tarp. We do everything we can to be constantly clearing before the game. If it snows after the tarp is off during game time, our snow crew will use backpack blowers or shovels to clear off the lines and numbers during time outs.
  • AF: I’ve been fortunate to not have to deal with that, but we always have a plan because football is happening no matter what. We would have backpack blowers ready to be used during timeouts. Bringing equipment on the field would be too risky. Baseball/softball would have the chance for rescheduling.

6. What strategies or turf tips have you learned over the years?

  • AR: When it comes to equipment, I think it’s all about preference but we really love the Protec plows. If it’s just a light dusting we will use blowers.
  • RW: The craziest thing I’ve learned throughout the process is that every field requires a unique snow pushing strategy. Each situation must be evaluated as an individual field. You must find the right method, the proper air temperature and where to move it. We have cleared 20 fields this fall and each required a different strategy to accomplish the desired results. Like everything else with groundskeeping, we have to adapt to the conditions.
  • AF: For us the tarp is number one, it’s so much easier to remove from the tarp than the grass and you save your surface a great deal of stress. But we know that tarps are expensive and not in the cards for everyone. If you have to remove right from the grass. Get out there before too much snow melts, because taking heavy equipment onto soggy grass is not going to be good. Ruts and field damage happen when the field accumulates a ton of snow. Even if there is only a 30% chance of snow, be prepared.

Here are more turf tips on how to handle the uncertainty of your upcoming seasons.